Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene Was A Good Warning For the Northeast

Although Hurricane Irene turned out a little weaker than many forecasts, it still caused at least $5-10 billion in damage, while serving notice to the mid-Atlantic and northeast about what a more powerful storm could do.

Some observations post-Irene.

1. Forecasting landfall for a hurricane approaching the Atlantic coast is quite difficult. As is usually the case for storms like Irene, the forecast track steadily slipped northward over a period of days, moving from the lower South Carolina coast to the middle of North Carolina. Had Irene's track been just 50 miles further east, it could have missed NC altogether (skirting the Outer Banks) and remained a stronger hurricane as it approached further north.

2. Likewise, forecasting hurricane intensity is difficult. Fortunately for NY and New England, Irene did strike NC first, taking out quite a bit of its energy. But even before it approached NC, Irene weakened a fair amount. In constrast, in 1989, Hurricane Hugo ramped up in intensity just hours before striking Charleston, SC. Better to err on the side of overpreparation, however.

3. There was more time to prepare for Irene than would be the case for some storms. Irene approached at a relatively leisurely pace for an Atlantic hurricane coming at the east coast (less than 15 miles per hour). The 1938 "Long Island Clipper" was going 60 miles per hour when it hit NY. In the future, there could easily be storms where the lead and warning time is half that of Irene.

4. A large storm like Irene is particularly dangerous. Irene was a good sized hurricane, with tropical storm force winds extending a good 200 miles from its center. A storm that size striking the east coast is always going to cause a lot of damage because there are so many people and cities concentrated in the region. Irene sent moderate storm surges over hundreds of miles of coastline; blew down trees over a huge area; and dropped flooding rains on at least ten states.

5. A slightly more powerful version of Irene could cause catastrophic damage. If, as forecast, Irene had strengthened to a Category three storm before landfall, and if it had just missed NC before turning toward the Atlantic Coast, it could have dealt a devastating blow to NY, NJ and/or New England. As it was, as a large tropical storm Irene managed to flood parts of New York City and devastate several NJ beaches. A more powerful storm on the same track could easily have upped the damage ante to $50 billion, or even $100 billion.

6. NYC is ready to take hurricanes seriously--NYC officials treated the threat soberly, as did many--but of course not all--New Yorkers. As illustrated in the Curmudgeon's novelization of a major hurricane striking NYC (Landstrike), the consequences of a major hurricane making a direct hit on the city would be devastating. We just hope there's no backlash in attitudes because the storm ended up a little weaker than advertised.

Fortunately, geography and climate make the odds of a major hurricane striking NYC at any given time quite small. Irene illustrated that point. But, when the big one does hit--and one day it will--the consequences will be devastating.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Anyone living on the east coast from North Carolina to Maine should read this excellent summary of the significant dangers from storm surge from Hurricane Irene:

(We, of course, also like and greatly appreciate the plug for Landstrike at the bottom. Irene is behaving very much like fictional hurricane Nicole in Landstrike, albeit not quite as strong--but still dangerous!)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Will Irene Follow Us To NYC?

It figures. The Curmudgeon family is headed to New York City this weekend for a show and some touristing about, but it looks like Hurricane Irene may follow us up there, Landstrike style. Irene probably won't be "the big one," and it's course is still far from certain, but we guess it would be poetic justice for the storm to ruin our weekend. (Having just survived the great Virginia Quake of '11).

The forecast track for Irene is already illustrating one of the big problems with hurricane forecasting that we tried to highlight in Landstrike: given the curvature of the Atlantic coastline and the tendency of Atlantic hurricanes to curve to the north as they approach the coast, it is very difficult to accurately predict where they'll strike (or if they will miss entirely).

In the worst case, Irene will hug the coast from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod, causing billions of dollars of coastal damage (similar to Hurricane Floyd in 1999).

If you live anywhere on the east coast north of Georgia, you should keep a close eye on this one for the next few days!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rick Perry's Porn Investment

With hat tip to Nathalie, we thought this was interesting in terms of a long line of GOP "family values" hypocrites:

Rick Perry's Hardcore History of Investment in Porn

We'd be willing to bet he's sampled the product as well.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Arlington Should Tell Motorcyclists To Take A Hike

[Note to readers: with this post we're back from a summer hiatus, hoping to resume posting regularly.]

Arlington County has announced that it will close portions of I-66 and Route 110 in the County this Friday afternoon between 2:30-4:00 pm so that Arlington police can accompany a large group of motorcycle riders coming into town to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Sorry Arlington, but this is BAD POLICY. Anyone who's ever driven I-66 on a Friday afternoon knows that rush hour starts early and it goes in BOTH directions. Likewise, Rt. 110 is a major artery.

We have no problem with motorcyclists coming to town to commemorate the 9/11 attacks, although we highly suspect this is more like a big party than any kind of solemn event. (Promotional material for the event on Friday touts a BBQ in Crystal City on yet more closed streets, along with a gun raffle to raise money. A lot of Arlingtonians on were more bent out of shape about the gun raffle, but we're not sure Arlington authorities can--or should--do much about that.)

But on a Friday afternoon?

There's a reason why marathons, walk-a-thons, bicycle events, etc, are on Sunday mornings: because the traffic disruption is minimized (it's still disruptive if you're trying to get somewhere at that time). Why cave in to these motorcyclists?

The alert from Arlington County said, in part, that it is for the protection and safety of the motorcyclists. Fine, but if they want to ride into town on a Friday afternoon, they should sit in traffic like everyone else (and NOT hot dog it around cars, driving on medians and in the middle of lanes).

Couldn't Arlington have told the cyclists that they'd be welcome to come in at say between 10:00 a.m. to noon, or after 7:00 pm? Or on the weekend? This is a bad precedent.

If the President (current or most recent) were to motorcade through at a similar time, disrupting traffic, you can believe there'd be complainers. (Indeed, a few years ago, Bush wisely opted not to motorcade to a fundraiser in NoVa during rush hour, realizing how counterproductive it would be.)