Mike's Blog Archive: June 2010

The tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has caused tremendous damage to the environment and to the lives of the people in the region. From the devastating loss of human life on the Deepwater Horizon to the unknown extent of the loss of life to fish, birds and other animals in the area, this is an ongoing disaster.

It will still be several more weeks before the relief wells can be completely drilled and the runaway well can finally be capped. Until that time, millions of gallons of crude oil will continue to spill and spoil the waters of the Gulf.

One of the questions that I have been asked is "how will the oil spill impact hurricanes and vice versa?" As with much of this terrible event, we really do not have any precise answers as this is an unprecedented situation.

According to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, the oil in the water will likely not have a major impact on either the formation or the path of any tropical systems. Despite the immense size of the spill, tropical storms and hurricanes are still much larger in terms of the environment from which they draw their energy. The oil slick has broken into large areas of tar balls and thin layers of oil. The overall ocean surface will still be large enough to allow plenty of evaporation of water to help fuel the tropical storm systems. In addition, tropical systems move over large distances, well away from where the slick is located and they draw their energy from vast areas. It is doubtful that the oil slick will be large enough to suppress the evaporation and condensation cycles that help power hurricanes.

Of greater concern is what a hurricane might do to the oil slick. One of the main worries is that any tropical storm or hurricane that would be heading toward the leaking well would prompt the evacuation of the area until the storm passes. This would mean any containment or drilling efforts would have to be put on hold for several days - perhaps even a week to ten days as the ships would have to move away and then return after the storm threat is over. During that time, the leaking well would pour all of the oil directly into the waters of the Gulf.

If a hurricane swirls over the northern Gulf, the oil will be blown around by the storm and pushed onshore in great quantities. So far, much of Florida's coasts have been spared, especially south of the Florida Panhandle. A hurricane that crossed over the central Gulf and slammed into the west coast of Florida would bring a tremendous amount of oil onto the white sand beaches of western Florida.

If a hurricane moved over the slick and hit Louisiana or Alabama, it would certainly drive the oil well inland, soiling even more of the fragile tidal marshes and perhap even driving the oil slick into Lake Pontchartrain. The environmental damage would likely be huge and long lasting as the oil and water mix would be emmulsified into some type of petrochemical frappe.

There is some thought that this mixing might actually be beneficial as the large volume of water might help to thin the oil enough to lessen the damage. However, even at levels of a few parts per million, the crude oil contains an array of toxic chemicals, such as benezene. Many of these chemicals are carcinogens and may cause damage to DNA, the danger may linger for years.

If you would like more information about the oil spill and hurricanes, check this link for a special page National Hurricane Center

If you would like more information hurricanes in general, check this link for a special website ICAT Hurricane Information ICAT was founded in 1998 to provide catastrophe insurance coverage to businesses and home owners throughout the United States. The scope of their business activities has broadened significantly but they remain committed to specialized and disciplined underwriting of catastrophe insurance risk.

The ICAT website contains historical information about all tropical storms and hurricane events that have made landfall in the USA since 1900. The storm tracks are provided, a description of the storms (landfall location, date of landfall, wind speed, etc.) is provided, and the amount of economic damage the storm produced when it made landfall and an estimate of how much damage it would cause today is also provided. The data is sorted by month, by state, by year, etc.

Here is some general information about hurricanes...

In general, the hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, with the peak time for the risk of tropical storms and hurricanes coming in late August through early October.

Tropical storms with winds of 75 mph or higher have different names in other oceans. For instance, in the Atlantic Ocean and the eastern Pacific, they are called hurricanes. The same type of storm in the Pacific, west of the International Date Line is called a typhoon. In the Indian Ocean, these storms are called cyclones. My favorite is off the coast of northern Australia, the locals there call these storms "Willy-Willies" - not a term that exactly inspires fear or an urge to relocate!

The strength of a hurricane is based upon the Saffir-Simpson scale. It is somewhat like the F Scale we use in rating tornadoes...

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is a 1-5 rating based on the hurricane's intensity. This is used to give an estimate of the potential property damage and flooding expected along the coast from a hurricane landfall.

Category One Hurricane:

Winds 74-95 mph. Storm surge generally 4-5 ft above normal. No real damage to building structures. Damage primarily to unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery, and trees. Some damage to poorly constructed signs.

Category Two Hurricane:

Winds 96-110 mph. Storm surge generally 6-8 feet above normal. Some roofing material, door, and window damage of buildings. Considerable damage to shrubbery and trees with some trees blown down. Considerable damage to mobile homes, poorly constructed signs, and piers.

Category Three Hurricane:

Winds 111-130 mph. Storm surge generally 9-12 ft above normal. Some structural damage to small residences and utility buildings. Damage to shrubbery and trees with leaves blown off trees and large trees blown down. Mobile homes and poorly constructed signs are destroyed.

Category Four Hurricane:

Winds 131-155 mph. Storm surge generally 13-18 ft above normal. More extensive damage with some complete roof structure failures on small residences. Shrubs, trees, and all signs are blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Extensive damage to doors and windows. Major damage to lower floors of structures near the shore. Terrain lower than 10 ft above sea level may be flooded requiring massive evacuation of residential areas as far inland as 6 miles.

Category Five Hurricane:

Winds greater than 155 mph. Storm surge generally greater than 18 ft above normal. Complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings. Some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. All shrubs, trees, and signs blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Severe and extensive window and door damage. Low-lying escape routes are cut by rising water 3-5 hours before arrival of the center of the hurricane. Major damage to lower floors of all structures located less than 15 ft above sea level and within 500 yards of the shoreline. Massive evacuation of residential areas on low ground within 5-10 miles of the shoreline may be required.

Here are some additional thoughts about this oil spill and our environment...

We will need every bit of cooperation from all sides to truly solve the energy/environment issues that face us in the coming decades. I doubt that we will come to terms with reducing carbon emissions, the population growth alone will preclude that. In addition, the growing 3rd world does not want to live in a hut with one light bulb, they want the same things we enjoy.

Where will we get the energy? Fossil fuels are amazing, but the demand will only soar. We are tranferring so much wealth to other countries and there is no way that we could ever domestically replace what we must import. From a national economic and security point alone, we have to widen our energy portfolio. Wouldn't it be great to be able to tell OPEC, Russia, Venezuela that "we really don't need your oil".

Granted, we get much of our oil from Canada and some other "friendlier" nations, but it is a fungible commodity - that world oil price is still enriching the Middle East and that puts the U.S. in a position of weakness.

I am not opposed to coal - but we must burn it better, nuclear, natural gas, wind, solar. We need it all and we need to invest in a smarter grid.

I hate for America to not be at the energy forefront in the 21st Century. We can lead the world with better and cleaner ways to make power, we have done it before with major endevours. The Transcontinental Railroad in the 1880s, the Manhatten Project, The Interstate Highways, The Space Program, the Computer Revolution.

Instead of bowing down to special interests, we must, for our heirs, do the right things. To paraphrase JFK, "not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

The topic of ozone, a form of oxygen consisting of three oxygen molecules bonded together, often leads to confusion. Why is it good in the upper levels of the atmosphere but not at the surface? How and why are ozone levels changing? Questions like these have lead to the development of The Global Ozone Project (GO3). GO3 is giving high school students the opportunity to learn more about ozone, both good and bad. The Project is a hands-on way of teaching students about issues such as ground-level ozone pollution, depletion of the ozone layer, and global warming. Through their observations, the students are able to contribute to the science of these critical environmental issues. Click this link for more!

Global Ozone Project

Students at high schools around the world use ozone monitors, sophisticated instrumentation traditionally used only by scientists, to measure ozone concentrations in the air outside their schools. Using a meteorological station they also will monitor other variables needed to understand ozone formation and transport, including temperature, humidity, pressure, and wind speed and direction. They will make measurements, interpret their results, and post the data on an overlay in the Google Earth map to share with other students, scientists, and the public around the world.

Ozone monitoring informs the public about how much ozone is in the air, with higher levels being increasingly unhealthy. People who are aware of the effects of their activities on ozone formation can make changes in their lifestyle to reduce ozone, such as driving less and turning off lights not in use. Now, through the Global Ozone Project, students can not only make these changes in their own lives, but inspire others to do so through the knowledge they gain through their first-hand observations. Furthermore, the Project gives students the unique opportunity to have a real impact on environmental sciences.

For more about local ozone concerns in the Front Range area click here.

Regional Air Quality Council

24/7 Weather ALERT CALL

The recent severe weather outbreaks are just the beginning of what should be a very active thunderstorm and tornado season. When the skies turn violent, you need advanced warning to protect your family.

We have a brand new service available to help warn you and your family about dangerous thunderstorms, tornadoes and flash floods. Sign up for our new 24/7 Weather ALERT CALL. For just 7 dollars per year, we will call your phone anytime a severe storm threatens your home or place of business. All you do is enter your address and our service will call to alert you to severe weather. Better yet, this service will only call you IF the warning is specifically for your immediate location! To learn more and to sign up for this service, read all about it below!

The 24/7 Weather Alert Call!

24/7 Weather ALERT CALL

Colorado weather changes fast and our severe storms often bring damaging winds, large hail, deadly lightning and flash floods. Now, the 24/7 Weather Center offers you a new way to protect your family when the weather turns stormy.

What is the 24/7 Weather Alert Call?

The Alert Call is a high speed early warning service designed to deliver weather warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods within moments of being issued by the National Weather Service.

How does the 24/7 Weather Alert Call work?

The Alert Call uses your street address to determine whether your home or business is inside a tornado, severe thunderstorm or flash flood warning area. The 24/7 Weather Alert Call warning will be delivered directly to your phone if you are in the projected path of severe weather. You must provide an actual street address. PO boxes, Mail Stops, Rural Routes, etc. cannot be located in the system.

Is the 24/7 Weather Alert Call always available?

The Alert Call will automatically send weather warnings 24 hours a day, 365 days a year providing you with time to prepare and seek shelter. The service can be set up to call up to three different phone numbers to reach you and your family.

How is the 24/7 Weather Alert Call different from other warnings?

The Alert Call weather warnings use the new “Polygon Warning System” - also known as “Storm Based Warnings”. These warnings come directly from the National Weather Service and contact only those in the threatened area, instead of for an entire county. This eliminates most of the false alarms and “over-warning” associated with the older “County Based” warning methods.

How quickly will I receive an Alert Call warning?

The 24/7 Weather Alert Call will monitor each warning from the National Weather Service to determine the severity and the exact area(s) affected by the approaching storm. The Alert Call will rapidly create a call list of all subscribers within the projected area of the severe weather. The calls begin with subscribers closest to the weather threat and quickly fan out to cover the entire warned area. Warnings will be completely issued within minutes of the initial warning.

How much does the 24/7 Weather Alert Call cost?

The Alert Call service costs just $7 per year for one address and up to three phone numbers. The service works as a phone tree and will call phone number two only if a person is not reached at the primary number. Phone number three will only be called if a person is not reached at the first two numbers. The service does not call all three numbers simultaneously.

If you want to sign up a second address or more than three phone numbers, that will be counted as a second subscription and will cost an additional $7 per year. 7News negotiated the fee with our vendor to be as low as possible. At 58¢ per month or $7 per year, the 24/7 Weather Alert Call costs considerably less than other services.

(Please note that your usual telephone usage charges will apply.)

I already have a Weather Alert Radio; do I also need a Weather Alert Call”?

The Alert Call is a perfect compliment to the National Weather Service Alert Radio. The Weather Alert Radios are a great way to receive general forecasts, storm outlooks, severe weather watches, advisories and warnings. However, the alert radios use the county based warning system, so you may receive a general warning that does not include your specific location. For example, the tornado warning for the Windsor Tornado in May of 2008 was issued for both Larimer and Weld Counties – an area of over 6,500 square miles. The actual warned area was much smaller, less than 150 square miles. The Alert Call will only warn you if your immediate area is affected by the warning.

Do I still need my Weather Alert Radio?

Absolutely! The weather alert radio remains a very fast way to get in depth storm information. Our suggestion is a one-two-three combination of the Weather Alert Call, the Weather Alert Radio and 7News to provide your family with all of the critical storm information. When you get an Alert Call, you know that you can get all of the information you need from your Weather Alert Radio and from our meteorologists on 7News and TheDenverChannel.com.

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