#Saudi Arabia Refinery #Attacks

The weather isn’t by any means the most dangerous threat facing us.  My guess is most folks think of Enki as a hurricane or weather research group.  In fact, Hurricanes and Weather/Climate research is about 60% of Enki’s work right now.  Geophysical hazards (Earthquakes, Tsunamis) are another 20% or so, and about 10% “anthropogenic” hazards like LNG or nuclear power incidents.  But about 10% of Enki’s work is in the area of Foreign Policy and related issues (space, remote sensing, and open source intelligence) and impacts of WMD (nuclear mostly).  While the WMD/Foreign Policy related work is the smallest percentile it has been in a long time, in many ways that field was the most important, as many of the techniques used in the other areas originated in that dark realm.  I don’t often post about it for the obvious reasons, but also because unfortunately in modern day America it’s becoming increasingly hard to have a nuanced discussion about anything that touches on Politics. This blog actually started in the early 2000’s as “SatBlog”, and most of the posts were about  monitoring disasters, including war zones, using satellite remote sensing.  In may interest some of you that SatBlog broke several news stories during the Iraq invasion, including that the Iraqis had set the oil fields on fire.

This morning the Houthis rebels (with almost certain help from Iran) are alleged to have attacked multiple targets in Saudi Arabia, damaging several refineries and taking offline over half of Saudi oil production (there is reason to be skeptical of this narrative, but that is what the official sources say).  The fires and smoke plumes are visible from space, as this MODIS quick look image shows …

If these facilities are heavily damaged or stay offline for long, it will have a ripple effect throughout the fragile world economy.  And, of course, the inevitable retaliation will have consequences, and a spiral of violence is possible.  Scary stuff.

Tropical Storm Humberto (AL092019) Sat. Morning 14 Sept 2019

Overnight AL09 finally gained a closed circulation and 34 knot winds (40mph), the minimum required to get a name.  It is currently moving to the northwest, skirting the northern Bahamas; hopefully the worst of the storm will stay to the northeast, but unfortunately they will get some wind and rain, disrupting recovery efforts. As our attention here shifts to things besides hurricanes, please don’t forget about them; it will take years of efforts to rebuild and recover.

Humberto should encounter steering to the northeast, and a more favorable environment, so by Monday Humberto may well be a hurricane – but by then it will be turning away from the US.  The tropical storm watch for the Florida coast has been dropped, so they may feel free to resume their normal, no doubt legitimate, activities.  For the bucolic residents of the southeastern United States, even rain from the system is looking less and less likely.  By late next week the storm may be a problem for Bermuda.

Here’s the impact map based on this morning’s NHC forecast …

Elsewhere there are four areas on NHC’s tropical wave/area list, but none is really that interesting yet.  Tropical Storm Kiko is likely to become a hurricane before fading in the unfavorable waters of the middle eastern Pacific, well before it reaches the islands of Hawai’i.  Couple of invest areas in the West Pacific, one south of Japan might spin up today.

Tropical Depression #9 (was Potential TC #9, trying to be Humberto)

The center of circulation for the system keeps trying to reform north and east, which is good for The Bahamas, great for the US, and really bad for the forecast models statistics.  At 48 hours we would expect the track error to be under 100 miles; it’s pushing 300 right now on this storm … the latest National Hurricane Center track keeps the storm well offshore from the excitable denizens of Coastal Georgia and South Carolina.  Hopefully the worst of this will say northeast of the ravaged areas of The Bahamas.  Those in Central Florida should probably still keep an eye on it to make sure it turns as expected, given you are in a Tropical Storm Watch, but anything approaching tropical storm conditions are looking more unlikely.  If the storm intensifies as forecast, Bermuda may be at risk next week.  Here’s the swath of doom …

Decoding the NHC Forecast Advisory (AL092019 Update)

TL;DR: storm is still disorganized, tracks are trending to keep the storm offshore, and NHC may shift their forecast even further east later today.  Bahamas still needs to prepare, given the pre-existing damage.  The US Coast can just watch right now, but AL09 will likely become Tropical Storm Humberto later today.  Dangerous conditions are unlikely in the US, but worth paying attention in case that changes.  But read the rest; it’s Friday, not like you guys are working anyway 🙂

The National Hurricane Center produces two primary products: the Forecast Advisory, and the Watches and Warnings contained within it and the Public Advisory, that are based on the Forecast Advisory.  The other products are derived from these two primary products.  While the PA and FA are pretty clear, it takes some time and digging to interpret what they mean.  This is why I suggest your first step is the “Key Messages” product, which is a nice summary of the big picture.

The Forecast Advisory is at the heart of what NHC does.  It is a forecast for the storm position, intensity, and wind radii for the storm at fixed times in the future, out to five days, and is based on a careful study of the forecast models blended with forecaster experience.  The first 3 days are considered a forecast, the last 2 only an outlook.  That is because of the uncertainty that, while much better than it was even 10 years ago, is still significant.  As a text product it takes some decoding.  One of my key gripes with TV weathercasters is they normally focus on peak winds, and the maximum radius of tropical storm force winds.  The problem is that peak winds generally exist in a very small area of the storm – the intense damage swath of a hurricane is typically less than 30 miles either side of the track, and any significant impacts at all only 100 miles..  And these distances vary tremendously across a storm.  So you will hear things like “tropical storm force winds extend 200 miles from the center!”  That may be true in the NorthEast quadrant (which is generally, but not always, the strongest part of the storm), but elsewhere these distances can be half that far. The FA includes the wind radii in each quadrant.  Let’s take a look at the 5am FA for AL09 using the AWIPS II software used by the National Weather Service, with the forecast wind radii depicted … click to embiggen.  Note that the final two positions (96 and 120 hour, or 4-5 days from now) position generally doesn’t have wind radii estimated.

The blue arcs show the radius of tropical storm force winds (40mph).  Off of Jacksonville, the yellow arc shows 50 knot (56mph, the wind speed that things really start to break).  But there’s more: these are winds over water!  Over land they are typically 20% less due to friction.  So along the Florida coast, while those blue arcs go inland a bit, it is unlikely any areas other than within a couple miles of the beach will actually see winds that high, if the storm follows that exact track and intensity.  Now lets look at the latest advisory:

Not even any blue arcs on land.  That’s the raw data.  What I do is take that raw data and process it through sophisticated damage models.  Here’s the latest impact estimate from my new Stribog model, using this latest (11am Friday 13 September) National Hurricane Center forecast track and intensity.  What Stribog does is take the raw data from the Forecast Advisory (or any other track/intensity model, but I generally don’t show those in public to avoid diluting the NHC message), and using a coupled wind, wave, and storm surge model, it calculates the conditions along the track on a 982 meter grid.  Notice how asymmetric the damage swath is around the track. I then classify that (well, the computers do) in to easy to understand categories and display it using Google Earth to make a pretty map …

Potential TC #9 (AL092019); Finding the center?

Potential Tropical Cyclone #9 does not have a well defined center, and is still technically a tropical wave (if any terminology like potential tropical cyclone, tropical wave, etc. is confusing look here).   In the post-Sandy revisions to NWS procedures, if was decided that if it was possible the storm could reach watch or warning criteria, NHC would start advisories under the term “Potential Tropical Cyclone.”  It’s not done that often, only when a storm “spins up” close to land, like this thing is doing.  So where is AL09, where is it going, and how strong will it be when it gets there?  Let’s take a look at how NHC and TC specialists try to figure that out ..

First, where is the storm?  With weaker storms this is a big deal – the track models can’t do a good forecast without a closed circulation to lock on to.  Here are all of the position fixes for AL09, and the “track” NHC is using … as always, click to see full size.

Compare that with Hurricane Dorian as it traversed The Bahamas as a much stronger and well defined storm … the icons are for various techniques like satellite position/intensity estimates, airplane fixes, radar, etc.

Here’s the tropical analysis for this morning, with the IR satellite view (sun isn’t up yet!).  The big bad orange blob, the main rain and convection associated with the system, is to the right of the “L” marking the estimated center (the Low pressure marker).

The lack of a solid circulation to lock on means you have to treat the track models a bit skeptically.  Here’s the full spread for AL09, including ensemble members.  A big confusing mess …

The red line is the official NHC track.  They are essentially splitting the difference between the various scenarios given by the “deterministic” model families (colored lines).  Intensity is an even harder thing to figure out.  Conditions are not favorable for the storm to develop over the next two days.  After that, conditions should improve, but by then the storm may be near or over Florida, limiting development.  So without a good track, doing an intensity estimate is a harder than normal task (and intensity is a harder problem than track in most storms).  NHC is conservatively assuming the storm will stay on or near shore, but still be able to take advantage of the favorable upper level winds to strengthen into a moderate tropical storm.

So what does all that mean?  Well, for people who want to fill the airwaves or bandwidth with confusing speculation, it’s a windfall (see what I did there 😛 ).  But for you, the sophisticated reader, you do what you always do since you have a plan, restocked your supplies after Dorian (including, if comments on Facebook are any guide, your extensive wine cellar), and look at the NHC Key Messages product, and check for watches and warnings. Here’s the estimated impact based on the NHC forecast …

Bottom line: much weaker storm than Dorian, might follow a similar track (or not), not likely to become a hurricane in the near term, mostly a rain and blustery wind thing.  More misery for The Bahamas.  Inconvenience in the US, with the potential for hazardous, but not likely dangerous conditions right on the coast.

Invest in The Bahamas now a “potential tropical cyclone nine” (AL092019)

NHC relocated the center earlier today, causing the tracks to jump around and giving the chattering class something to talk about, and as of 5pm has started official advisories and tracking. Remember that for weaker systems, often there isn’t a real “center of circulation” that the track models can latch on to.  Whenever there is a relocation (in this case over 90 miles), the models will often jump – best to wait for a cycle or two for them to settle down before getting excited (see a pattern here?).  Again, with hurricane/tropical cyclone tracking, watch the trends!  Here’s the official forecast track and impact estimate …

Note that the GFS takes the storm across Florida and into the Gulf.  That is still a very real possibility, given the yuge uncertainty in the tracks.  Either way it will spread more misery in The Bahamas, and cause wind and rain in Florida in areas still heavily drinking from the near-miss from Dorian.  Those in Florida should probably check in on the 11pm advisory and monitor what your local EMA’s are saying; those further north can wait until in the morning to panic.

Storm this weekend? (Thu, 12 Sept 2019)

The system being monitored as AL952019 is moving through The Bahamas today.  NHC gives it a high (80%) chance of development over the next few days. Here’s the available track primary track models early this morning.

The models mostly keep the storm below hurricane strength, and many don’t even bring it up to tropical storm intensity.  In any event will bring rain and perhaps some gusty winds to South and possibly Central Florida. I suspect it’s not helping the Dorian recovery efforts.  If it goes in the Gulf of Mexico (GOMEX), it might have a chance to spin up a some and threaten the eastern Gulf Coast*.  But that’s a next week thing, and not time to worry about that right now.  

So what’s the bottom line – when should you follow, and worry about, an “invest area”?  Short answer is you shouldn’t.  If it were an actual threat, NHC would start tracking it as a “subtropical system” and begin issuing advisories.  Note that as of 8am, NHC says they might start issuing advisories later today if development continues.  That’s when you should start paying attention.

* I’d say it could potentially impact East Mississippi, a dig at CNN, who mislabeled Alabama as Mississippi in some of their Dorian graphics, or Sharpieland, in reference for the US President’s art work which is major threat to national security or another example of fake media depending on your perspective, but folks don’t seem to have much of a sense of humor about this stuff any more.

System in The Bahamas

Statistically, if you are hit by a tropical system, there is a about  a one in four chance you will be hit by at least one other tropical system of some kind in the same year.  If you think about that it makes sense, since the “steering currents” and formation zones tend to follow larger climatalogical patterns.  Unfortunately, it also increases the misery of those impacted by a major storm and those trying to help them, even if they don’t become named storms.  We’re seeing this with The Bahamas (BTW, for those grammar nazi wannabes who asked 😛 , yes, the “T” is supposed to be capitalized when referring to the country since it’s a proper part of the name).  There is a disorganized system approaching from the east, being tracked as AL952019, with clouds and showers starting to spread over the islands …

NHC gives this thing a 40% chance of spinning up in the next two days, and a 60% by the time it reaches the Gulf of Mexico.  The track models currently have it as a weak system approaching the coast of, um, one of those states in the Eastern GOMEX between Florida and Louisiana.  Not saying the name.  Too politically sensitive right now …

Teacup in a Tempest: the storm over Trump, NOAA/NWS, and Hurricanes

Among the many topics I really don’t want to comment on, but will anyway, is “Sharpiegate”.  To say that the US President is divisive is an understatement, and the sad fact is that American Politics in general has become so insanely partisan that it is almost impossible to comment at all without being accused by one side or the other of being in league with evil – evil being defined as “the other side”.  So there’s probably no upside to commenting on this.  However, there are some important points to be made, if they could only be heard over all the noise.  And sometimes you get lucky and manage to irritate both “sides”. So let’s try that.

I don’t know what was said in the briefing that resulted in President Trump tweeting that Alabama was potentially going to be hit by Dorian.  I’m assuming that seed was planted on Thursday the 29th or Friday, 30 August, based on the “cone of error,” a product few really understand how to apply and I think everybody who really understands hurricanes hates, but hasn’t figured anything else out yet.  In fairness to the President, like the blow-up over nuking hurricanes, I can see how someone might think Alabama was at risk.  People see a track forecast and often ask “what will happen next.”  And given the uncertainty in the five day forecasts, I can see how a briefer might have said “on that track, then in 6-7 days, or if the storm is at the outer edge of the cone, yes Alabama might be at risk.”  The tweet that started the firestorm came on Sunday, but by then the tracks and models had shifted.  This happens all the time – as a track shifts, people get an earlier forecast stuck in their mind and keep repeating it to others long after it is stale, causing confusion.  Since it was the POTUS doing the repeating, this put the NWS WFO in Birmingham in a tough position that, again, all of us in this business get put in all the time: I’d guess for every “you’re doomed and gonna die” I have to dish out, there are twenty “no, you are not at risk from this storm, that’s an old forecast.”  It does raise questions as to how often the President is briefed and, perhaps, his attention span.  But, objectively, this shouldn’t have been much of a big deal had everyone been reasonable.

Thursday Evening Forecast

Forecast Sunday Morning

This could and should have been quickly defused, but the US President and his team are “doubling down,” while the opposition is pushing this as a catastrophic failure indicating various psychological or character flaws.  Modern political leaders have an extraordinarily difficult time in admitting they were wrong, some (most?) to the point of pathology.  And their opponents love to take innocent or common mistakes and blow them up for short term advantage no matter what the long term institutional costs. Now both pro and anti Trump sides are blowing this up for their own political reasons because they think it gives them some tactical advantage.  Real problem or manufactured political fight?  Probably both in this case, but that’s not my point here.

What *is* my concern in this is the continuing corruption of science in policy debates and public safety.  I find it ironic beyond belief that many major news networks who don’t hesitate to use one-off long range model forecasts that go well beyond the NHC forecasts, sowing fear and confusion as they go, are now piously condemning the US President for doing what they themselves do virtually every 5 minutes during a storm. The sheer hypocrisy of this is staggering.  Equally odious is putting your scientific (not to mention intelligence agency) staffs in the position of having to back your political positions and cover for your mistakes.  It is something most administrations do.  It’s always wrong, and while both parties do it this administration seems to be taking the practice to new extremes.  It’s a dangerous trend.  If you want to say “they” are worse than “we”, I might not argue, but like the saying goes, if you choose the lesser of two evils, you’re still choosing evil …

I’m also concerned that some scientific organizations, and some individual scientists and meteorologists, are now jumping into this debate in a way that is starting to feel, or is rapidly being turned, into partisan attacks.  The problem isn’t so much that they are wrong (many are in fact right about how this is evolving, and the potentially dire implications for government sponsored research and science applications), my problem is that they haven’t called out previous administrations for their abuse of the science because they agreed with the the politics of those administrations, or maybe they felt it just wasn’t bad enough, or both.   Unfortunately, like the climate change debate, this is dragging scientists (some willingly, most probably not) into political crap flinging that diminishes public trust in all of our institutions.

So for what it’s worth, here’s the TL;DR …

  1. That the President thought Alabama was at risk in the future, on Thursday or Friday, based on the Thursday/Friday forecast doesn’t bother me too much.
  2. That he was still saying it Sunday bothers me a lot: by then he should have had a fresh briefing. If not, that’s a problem. If he did, and was still saying it, we have another problem.  Either way, not a good situation.
  3. Attacking WFO/BHM is scary: they were doing their job.
  4. The media is being utterly hypocritical and self righteous over this – they extrapolate beyond the NHC forecast all the time, sowing fear and confusion.
  5. Scientists should vigorously defend the science, but tread carefully over being perceived as overly partisan.  Especially in the climate debate, some have already crossed that line, advocating specific politically based solutions rather than sticking to underlying problems, and evaluating the effectiveness of proposed solutions.  That kind of advocacy hurts credibility in situations like this.

Science is the only credible tool we have for understanding how the world works, and should be the underlying basis for devising policies that address the problems our society faces.  Once that credibility is lost, we are in fact doomed.  This whole debate, especially how it is evolving, is destructive and does not bode well for the future.

Global TC Review – Monday, 9 September 2019 (and Dorian wrapup)

We have five active systems and three potential (“invest” areas) that forecasters are tracking worldwide.  Most of the active systems have already hit land and are moving out either into open water or are no threat.  The only interesting active storm is in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Gabrielle.  The remnants will likely pass over Ireland and the (at the moment not very) United Kingdom as an extratropical system in about four days.  Here’s the Atlantic Infrared view this morning …

There is a system north of the Leeward Islands that I’ve heard some talk about.  It’s not in a favorable environment for becoming a storm, but in a few days, when closer to The Bahamas, conditions are a little more favorable.  NHC has it at a 20% chance of formation in the next 5 days.  It’s not likely to form a storm that will cause damage, but the rain will add to the misery and difficulty of recovery.

Over the weekend we had several landfalls, including a stronger than expected Dorian hitting eastern Canada. The primary impact seems to be widespread power outages (thousands are still out as of this morning), with lots of trees (and a construction crane) down.  Right on the coast high waves also caused significant damage (but nothing like the Bahamas of course).  Further south, the flooding in NC is going down but damage otherwise is relatively light (big picture wise – if it’s your house the tree fell on your perspective is of course different!).  Those who stayed on Ocrakoke Island in the Outer Banks got a scary lesson as to why you should evacuated from water.  Fortunately no one lost their life.  And of course the scale of the devastation in The Bahamas is becoming clearer.  The current official death toll in the 40’s is certainly going to continue to rise in the next week.

The Koreas were hit by Typhoon LingLing.  There was damage in the South along the western coast, and fatalities and potentially severe flooding and damage in the North, but given the closed nature of the PDRK, it’s hard to know the actual impacts. It likely hit major agricultural areas, and has the potential to worsen already severe food shortages there.  Typhoon Faxai hit the Tokyo area, causing some damage and extensive power outages.  So it’s been a busy week …