AL092020 and Chaos … (5pm Tue 28 July 2020)

So … I wasn’t planing on doing this quite so soon, but with Potential Tropical Cyclone #9 threatening the viral encrusted southeast, I’m doing a mega-juggleing act and trying to fire up the Patreon site, as well as do some much needed computer infrastructure rearranging.  So please be patient with the chaos … and the brevity of this post.  As for PTC9, nothing too much changed since NHC started advisories.  Here’s the latest “core” track models that NHC is having to work with.  I didn’t put GFS in here because the 12z run was way off and the 18z run isn’t up yet:

As for impacts, the current thinking is that this thing will remain a tropical storm until Florida landfall – but there is a yuge amount of uncertainty in that until it spins up better, so it may not even go to Florida.  Way too early to freak out if you are on the mainland US.  PR does need to prepare for a tropical storm, as do the USVI and northern Caribbean.  More in the morning …

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Geology and Meteorology tired of Biology getting all the attention (22 July Review)

We have small tropical storm in the Atlantic headed towards the Windward Islands, a  hurricane (expected to weaken) headed towards Hawai’i, and we had a big earthquake off the coast of Alaska last night, so finally something to discuss other than the pandemic (which has become a political story more than biology or public health at this point, but I’ve ranted about that enough already).

Let’s start with the earthquake.  There was a M7.8 Earthquake off the coast of Alaska overnight (and a bunch of aftershocks, which are always expected after a big quake).  Damage on land should be light, it did cause a tsunami warning that was later retracted.  Here’s a quick look map of the impact area:

The Atlantic has finally dusted itself off and figured out it’s hurricane season.  Last night NHC started tracking TD#7, and this morning it was organized and intense enough to get the name Gonzalo.  As of 11am they have started the key messages product.  Here is the impact swath from my TAOS(tm)/TC model:

NHC substantially changed their intensity philosophy as of the 11am advisory, and now forecasts Gonzalo to become a hurricane.  The guidance is split – the major global models like GFS and the ECMRWF models kill off the storm in a few days because there is some dry air ahead; specialized hurricane models like HWRF intensify it.  NHC is sort of splitting the difference with a bias toward the high end.

Economic impact should be in the low millions of US dollars, but as in many areas of the world, any economic stress is unwelcome at this point.  The Caribbean is especially dependent on tourism, so this hurts more than the raw numbers might seem.

Another island is at potential risk half a world away: Hurricane Douglas is strengthening in the open waters of the east Pacific, and on the current track should be passing near or over the Islands of Hawai’i as it decays.  If the current NHC/CPHC track holds, it might cause a few million USD of disruption to the big island.  Here’s the current forecast impact:

Last and probably least, there is an invest area moving into the Gulf of Mexico, bound for the Texas/Mexico border.  NHC gives it a 50/50 chance of becoming a depression or greater by then.  Given the spread of the virus in Texas, hopefully it won’t spin up and trigger any evacuations …



Doomwatch, 20 July 2020 (Tropics and Pandemic)

There are a couple of weak tropical systems that the US National Hurricane Center is watching in the Atlantic and East Pacific, but nothing in the West Pacific this morning.   Here’s the view from GOES East of the Atlantic:

The only actual system (EP072020, East Pacific TD#7) is in the shadows as of 10am, off the Pacific Coast of Mexico, no threat to land.  The two “watch areas” have low formation probabilities; the mid-Atlantic invest area (AL99) perhaps a bit more, but still low over the next 5 days at 20%.  If you just need a spaghetti map, here’s an early look using the shallow (TABS) and mid level (TABM) steering currents, as well as some statistical models.

In viral doom, the data hasn’t really shifted that much over the last few days – as previously ranted, pandemics move slowly, with time scales in weeks.  Since we’re coming off a weekend and the data is catching up from that, I won’t post a plot, but the trends haven’t really changed much.  The precentage of people testing positive per test (the positivity ratio) as well as raw total positive patients showing up for treatment are still increasing far faster than anybody wants to see, mortality is up, not as much as the pessimistic predictions but worse than the optimistic scenarios.  Despite the Sturm und Drang, political posturing, and cultural gamesmanship, it is increasingly clear that masks outside the home are probably the best tool we have right now, especially if we want to resume something like normal lives.  So please just do it.

Harbinger of Doom Appears in Morning Skies!

As any aficionado of the apocalypse knows, you can’t have a serious plague without a comet.  And the year 2020 does not disappoint – Comet NEOWISE (named after the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission extension; comets are generally named after their discoverers, in this case the satellite mission team) has brightened a lot over the last week or so and, with a dark sky, has a spectacular tail.  Visible in the northeast sky just before dawn, it is best seen in binoculars.  If you can’t get up that early, it will become visible in the evening sky over the next week.  In cities with the lights it can be a challenge to see, but worth the effort.  Here this messenger of mayhem can be seen lurking over Daffin Park in Savannah Georgia about 5:30am Saturday morning … click to muchly embiggen: Again, you really need a dark sky to see it well. The camera picked it up well before I did, and here in the southeast, the early morning haze and humidity (and gnats) made it harder to find but once you do, it’s a neat sight.  Comets are fascinating remnants of the formation of our solar system.  Once seen as harbingers of doom, in the 1600’s records of their motion, especially those compiled by Sir Edmond Halley of Halley’s comet fame, helped Sir Issac Newton formulate and refine the laws of motion and gravity.  Modern physics has made huge strides in understanding our universe with amazing precision.  As you look at this vaporizing ball of ice and dust think about how far we have come (and what an embarrassment our societies are in failing to appreciate the role solid, unbiased science can have in formulating good policy)


Possible storm forming on/near SC Coast

The system that meandered up from the Gulf of Mexico over Georgia the last couple of days (ID AL982020)  is now centered on the SC coast, although most of the convection is now well offshore.  NHC now gives it a 70% chance of becoming a depression and maybe even a tropical storm, and has even started a “Key Messages” product on it (link).  Here’s the current (2pm) Satellite view … InfraRed on the left, visual on the right, click to embiggen:

As you can see, not terribly organized. Here’s the obligatory scary 850mb wind and pressure height animation if you need a fix … click to animate.

It is forecast to hug the coast and go inland around the New York City/Long Island area, bringing gusty winds up the mid Atlantic and Northeast Coasts. Biggest problem is likely to be rain, but even that should stay mostly offshore:

Otherwise shouldn’t cause a lot of damage or disruption, so I’m afraid you’ll have to continue to worry about COVID19 and politics.

Trends or Noise? A brief review of how to look at data …

ZOMG! TODAY IS ANOTHER RECORD DAILY INCREASE IN COVID CASES AND THE SECOND RECORD IN A ROW!  Or, it’s a leveling off of the increase.  Or … well, what is it?  It sort of depends on how you look at the data.  I’ve spilled lots of electrons on how the “case” data is really problematic, but that’s what people are using for decision making, and it’s closer to what the virus is doing in “real time” (only about two weeks behind reality, vs. the mortality rate, which lags about a month).  So let’s dig in … sorry, no equations.  

First, the raw numbers and “death counters” you are seeing everywhere can be very misleading.  The spread of a virus through a population depends on a lot of factors, but one of the biggest is population density.   You HAVE to normalize these numbers for population for this to make sense.  100 people in New York City is a blip.  100 people in rural Georgia is a catastrophe. Likewise, two months ago when there were over 20,000 new cases a day, they were mostly in New York and New Jersey; today, they are scattered across a dozen states.  So here is what we are seeing in representative states for the rate of new positive tests (people are calling these a “case” but that’s a misnomer).  This graph shows new positives per 10,000 of population.  Yes, there are some negative numbers and zeros due to reporting issues … (SC and LA are really crummy data sets).  Click to embiggen.

So in relative terms, most states are seeing a spread of the virus on the order of 1/3 the rate of what was seen in NY/NJ at its peak.  Note that’s not a good thing … but, again, 30k people infected in NY/NJ (and most of that in the Metro NYC area, population of about 20 million) vs 30k people across the entire US (population 321 million) is a very different thing. But … we are seeing some states (TX, GA, SC) doing much worse, not only moving in the wrong direction, but into the realm where you have to start worrying about the health care system getting stressed.

Let’s look now at the country as a whole:

Notice how flat this curve looks compared to the state level.  That said, there is a disturbing trend over the last 10 days, however, it’s not really the dramatic upward spike that seems to be the perception in some circles. And as I have often said, single day trends, even week trends, can be misleading.  Is today a plateau, followed by a downward trend, or will the rate increase?  My guess is it will wobble a bit higher then trend back down, and the “stable” point nationally over the summer will be around 1 per 10,000 per day in a “somewhat open, but with most people being sensible” paradigm. That’s not as good as the previous somewhat “stable” point of around ~0.75 per 10k for the last two months, but not horrific.  The trick in looking at this data – and creating policy to address the pandemic – is figuring out the trends, with the knowledge that with new positives you are two weeks behind the curve.  The data point for tomorrow depends on what people did 7-14 days ago.

In short: absolute numbers may be dramatic, but it’s the trends in rate per capita that matters.  Speaking of which, absolute hospitalization and death numbers, while vital to gauge the stress on the health care system (which is getting worse in many states, especially where the positive rate is moving above 1.5 per 10,000), aren’t telling you how deadly or dangerous the virus is.  As noted yesterday, the rate of people who are positive that end up in the hospital, and the rate of people who are dying from the virus, is actually decreasing slightly.  This is likely because more people in the 20-50 year old range are the bulk of the new positives.  So while the news coverage has shifted this week, what we are seeing isn’t a dramatic change in the virus.

The trend over the last 10 days is of course being blamed on reopening, and that is a big factor, but more importantly these trends are a direct result of people relaxing basic precautions – especially not wearing masks in public places and gathering inappropriately.  The reopening didn’t have to cause this increase.  In my view it is an urgent call to take more precautions on an individual level. (Update: and, an hour or so after I posted this, guess who said the same thing, but obviously a bit better …)  I don’t think it’s a call to close things down again; our economy is very fragile (likely in an ongoing collapse with the worst yet to come) and just can’t handle that.

Finally, I’m not trying to minimize how bad this is, or get into the partisan poo flinging over it.  As for those saying that the positives are related to testing; the argument that more testing is the reason we are seeing more positives  is “not even wrong.”  But that said, we need to have some context about this pandemic, and chart a careful path between over-reaction and under-reaction.  Sadly, all we seem to be doing is a random weave between the extremes … and that has severely damaged our economy, and maybe even our society as people are increasingly frustrated and angry as pre-existing fault lines are exposed and aggravated.

Enter Sandman

This year is really shaping up to be like the lyrics from an apocalyptic death metal band. Let’s look at the day so far in pictures (which you can click to embiggen of course): the morning starts with a review of the tropics, and three low grade systems that are a harbinger of doom to come, and a scattering of earthquakes in Iceland …

Next up is a look at the new COVID19 stats, which are almost worthless hash from a scientific standpoint but are trending in a doubleplusungood direction.

That was interrupted by a really lovely discussion about <REDACTED>, which you will likely be seeing hitting the news at some point, if you’re lucky.  Here’s a pic of that:

Which was followed by a major earthquake in Mexico:

Did I mention the Giant Deathtongue of Doom has reached the Caribbean?  With another blob off the coast of Africa behind that one?

But despite all these disasters, real (COVID, Mexico, <redacted>) and imagined (dust- although it is causing respiratory problems across the region, I wouldn’t call it a disaster), we always have cats to correct our mistakes …

Giant Sandstorm to hit US Southeast next week

Good thing you guys are all wearing your masks!  Yes, like a giant Death Tongue of Doom, a massive plume of dust is making its way across the Atlantic and will sweep across the US early next week.  Here is the view from GOES 16 at just before 7am Friday morning (19 June), infrared on the left, visual on the right …

Notice anything interesting?  On the IR image you can see the dust as a faint white dusting.  Recall that colder, likely convective tropical clouds are colored with yellow/red/orange being thunderstorms that, under the right conditions, can form the basis for tropical storms.  The dust itself isn’t so much a factor, it is the dry air it is carried in that suppresses formation of these storms, which means tropical systems are inhibited from forming.  This isn’t terribly unusual.  A NASA study estimated that winds over the Sahara pick up and carry around 182 million tons of sand across the ocean and dump it on the Western Hemisphere.  With the newer satellites we get better pictures, so that probably equates to more media coverage.

Here is the visual view of the sandstorm in all its glory.  On the ground  you probably won’t notice much other than the fact that sunrise/sets next week should be especially colorful. You’ll have to provide your own Tuba solo.

Doomwatch, Monday 8 June 2020

The now somewhat ill-defined center of Tropical Depression Cristobal is now inland along the LA/MS border.  As expected it caused (and is still causing) some coastal and riverine flooding in places that usually flood, there was a possible tornado in Florida, and scattered wind damage. Here’s the radar view as of just before 7am Monday Morning …

Interestingly, as it merges with another system tomorrow and Wednesday, the remains of Cristobal will enhance that system and likely cause high winds over the great lakes and upper Midwest (especially Michigan and Ontario).

Elsewhere, pretty quiet – no other tropical systems, no recent earthquakes, only pestilence, economic collapse, and social unrest stalking the land.  So that’s nice …

The Gentle clop-clop of coconuts (Tropical Storm Arthur, Sunday 17 May)

Yesterday evening the National Hurricane Center stopped mucking about and took note that The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that the blob of clouds off the coast of Florida had become Arthur, first of the Tropical Cyclones in the Atlantic.  Here’s what it looks like as the sun rises gently over the parapets … infrared on the left, visual on the right:

It seems that Arthur is destined to wander offshore, searching for the holy grail of warm water and low shear.  As always in such cases, consult the NHC “Key Messages” summary, which you may find carved in not very mystic runes upon the very living internet, for clues.

Here is the TAOS/TC impact map … the worst of the effects will likely stay offshore.

There does not appear to be any hidden rabbits with big, sharp, nasty pointed teeth involved, but if you go the any of the beaches in the Southeastern US over the next couple of days beware, for there are tides that may rip you from the shore and sweep you out to sea … (rip tides will be bad the next few days).  There is a tropical storm warning for the Outer Banks of North Carolina – appropriate precautions should be taken for some wind, heavy rains, and perhaps  some coastal flooding.

Let this be a reminder that you should take some extra precautions in your hurricane planning this year.  Or I shall have to taunt you a second time.

Note for anyone who is totally confused about the above: it is all a part of growing up and being British.  Or a Monty Python fan, which is probably the same thing.