Friday, September 9, 2005

Not Quite Perfect

Some mainly high clouds associated with a weak cold front passing slowly through the Washington metro area have dimmed the bright sunshine this afternoon, but temperatures are well into the mid 80s. Humidity has increased from recent days, with dewpoints in the upper 50s and low 60s. Radar is nearly clear, although a very small shower appeared early in the afternoon just north of the Mason-Dixon line and west of Hancock, MD. It has now expanded across Maryland into the panhandle of West Virginia.

Tonight and Tomorrow

Lows will be in the mid 60s under partly cloudy skies tonight. There is a remote chance of an isolated shower. Tomorrow will be partly cloudy with highs in the mid 80s.

Tropical Beat: How now, Ophelia!

As Jason noted earlier, Ophelia was a tropical storm with 65 mph maximum winds, but it has been upgraded to a hurricane with 75 mph winds as of 5pm. It is moving slowly northeast for now, so tropical storm warnings and watches have been canceled. Interests from northern Florida to the Carolinas need to be alert, however, since the storm still has the potential to regain strength and loop back to the coast. For the first time with this storm, the DC area is now in the "egg of uncertainty" for the track.

Maria still has tropical characteristics but is no longer a hurricane. It is moving northeast in the far northern Atlantic with maximum winds of 60 mph and should be near Iceland as an extratropical storm by Tuesday.

Nate was also downgraded to a tropical storm with winds of 65 mph. It is moving east-northeast at a brisk 24 mph on a track which should eventually take it west of the Azores.

Elsewhere, no other tropical storm formation is expected through Saturday.

Shelter From the Storm

Most broadcast and cable networks will carry a Katrina benefit telethon "Shelter From the Storm" from 8 to 9 tonight. Donations will be collected on behalf of the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

Don't forget to help the unsung heroes of the National Weather Service through the NWSEO Disaster Assistance Fund.

CNN reports that Katrina charity scams have mushroomed, especially on the web.

Thursday, September 8, 2005


Bright sun through a clear sky has pushed temperatures this afternoon in the Washington DC metro area a degree of 2 higher than yesterday; the official reading at 4pm was 84. Dewpoints have remained dry, even down to the low 40s in some places. As might be expected, the radar is clear for several hundred miles.

Tonight and Tomorrow

Lows tonight under clear skies will be in the low 60s in the city, 60 or a bit below in the outlying areas. Tomorrow will be sunny with a high around 84 and low humidity.

Tropical Beat Goes On

Although 3 simultaneous hurricanes have been observed before, they are quite rare.

Tropical Storm Ophelia became a hurricane at 5pm. It continues to lurk off the Florida coast, remaining nearly stationary. The circulation has become more organized, and maximum winds of 65 mph as of 2pm were raised to 75 mph in the latest advisory. With extremely weak steering currents, the future track is highly uncertain, but the official forecast brings it gradually northeast and then stalls it out again going into early next week. The models have some wide disagreements. It looks like we will be hearing about this one for quite some time.

Maria is still hanging on as a hurricane with 75 mph winds and an "eye-like feature" as it moves further northeast away from land. It is now north of latitude 39 N, over 1000 miles east of Bermuda.

Brother Nate is also still a hurricane; its 85 mph winds passed to the south of Bermuda. It continues northeastward from a position 170 miles east of Bermuda on a track which should put it southwest of Ireland as a depression in 5 days.

Tales From the Cajun Weather Grill

Katrina's rampage through Momma Nature's Cajun Weather Grill had a big impact on the pantry. Yesterday's WaPo Food section reports "Grocers Cautiously Monitoring Supplies". Supplies of coffee, bananas, chicken, and seafood are all affected. Mississippi produces 10% of the country's chicken, and 10 out of 14 processing plants were without power or water. Chiquita Brands imports 25% of its bananas through Gulfport. These are being rerouted through Texas and Florida.

The Louisiana oyster supply, which accounts for about 40% of the national total, was essentially cut off, with the storm wiping out everything from oyster beds through boats and processing plants. The shrimp industry was also heavily impacted, but 88% of U.S. shrimp consumption is imported.

The Port of New Orleans, which is the largest port in the U.S. by tonnage, reopened on Tuesday for relief shipments. It is expected to reopen in 2 weeks for commercial traffic. Vessels up to a 35-foot draft are being allowed on the Mississippi, but the river normally handles drafts up to 45 feet. The port closure has a big effect on the coffee market; about 50% of the Folger's brand is processed in New Orleans. Starbucks addicts will be relieved to know that the company has processing plants in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Washington state. They announced that they "did not hold any coffee in New Orleans and our coffee supply is not affected by the hurricane." Another vital commodity which normally flows through New Orleans is Mexican beer.

Loss of use of the port has a big effect on food exports as well. About 60% of grain exports are transported down the Mississippi.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

DC without AC

5:30 update:

Tomorrow, from 2:00 to 4:00, the Brookings Institution is sponsoring
"a panel discussion aimed at analyzing the federal, state and local response to hurricane Katrina and identifying next steps to speed the recovery of the Gulf Coast and its people. Experts on homeland security, the armed services, federalism and cities will unravel the questions that will be most important to policymakers moving forward at all level of government: How should disaster relief be organized? How can we better prepare for a natural disaster or a terrorist attack -- including coordinating the national guard and active duty military? How can we address the long term recovery of New Orleans and the rest of the region? And what does Hurricane Katrina mean for the congressional agenda and the Bush Administration's agenda?"

The Washington DC region's natural air conditioning continues this afternoon. Temperatures are mostly in the low 80s with low humidity. Radar is once again clear in all directions. Total precipitation for the month is still 0; the last measurable rain was 10 days ago, on the 28th of August.

Tonight and Tomorrow

Tonight's lows will again be in the mid 60s in the city, near 60 in the 'burbs. Tomorrow will see highs around 85 and slightly higher humidity as winds become more southerly.

Tropical Beat: Two Hurricanes and a Storm

Tropical Storm Ophelia developed this morning from T.D. 16. It has maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, and some strengthening is possible. After drifting northwestward at about 3 mph, the 2pm report has the storm stationary about 80 miles off the coast from Cape Canaveral. A tropical storm warning is in effect for central portions of the Florida east coast, and a tropical storm watch is in effect for the northeastern Florida coast. Although a gradual northwestward track is most likely, the "cone of uncertainty" is a circle, indicating the storm could move in any direction. Yesterday we noted that this is only the 5th "O" storm since 1950. Since 1851, there have also been 15th storms in 1887, 1933, and 1936.

Maria appeared to weaken and was downgraded to a tropical storm for a while, but is now back to hurricane strength at 80 mph. It is continuing to move northeastward away from land and is expected to weaken as it also begins to lose its tropical characteristics.

Nate was upgraded to a hurricane this morning with maximum winds of 85 mph. The track is a bit uncertain, but it is expected to pass close to Bermuda tonight or tomorrow morning. A tropical storm warning and hurricane watch are in effect for Bermuda.

The season has been so busy, we lost track of Dr. William Gray's updated forecast for the remainder of the season, issued last week. He is predicting 5 named storms, 4 of which are hurricanes (2 major), for September and 3 named storms, 2 hurricanes (1 major), for October. This gives a total of 20 named storms for the year, including 10 hurricanes (6 major). The Net Tropical Cyclone Activity index is forecast to be 220% of the long-term average.

Katrina's Cost

This week's issue of Business Week, published last Thursday, contains an article "Let Katrina Be a Warning" about the environmental and disaster preparedness policy issues of the storm. It quotes Fred Krimgold, director of the Center for Disaster Risk Management based at Virginia Tech's Advanced Research Institute in Arlington and a Yale classmate of the President:
"[W]e've had a tremendously irresponsible policy, destroying protective natural features while encouraging risky and precarious development."
A Wall Street Journal editorial yesterday commented on the disaster response:
"Mr. Bush is going to have to recognize the obvious initial failure of the Department of Homeland Security in its first big post-9/11 test. The President created this latest huge federal bureaucracy, against the advice of many of us, and we're still waiting for evidence that it has done anything but reshuffle the Beltway furniture."
CNBC reported on the air this morning that the Katrina disaster is costing the Federal government alone $700 million per day. That's about 10 times the cost in a day than the total annual amount cut from the Corps of Engineers fiscal 2006 budget, including a study to protect the New Orleans region from a Category 5 storm. Estimates of the required total Federal spending in connection with the storm's aftermath are now in the range of $200 billion.

House hearings which had been scheduled to examine federal hurricane response were abruptly canceled late yesterday and replaced by joint Senate-House hearings to be announced, according to CNN.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

DC: Delightfully Comfortable

A large high-pressure area dominates the entire U.S. east of the Mississippi River, except for southern Florida. As the center of the high has moved gradually eastward over New England, the wind over the mid Atlantic area has become more easterly, but dewpoints in the Washington metro area are still in the comfortable mid to upper 50s. Under partly cloudy skies, temperatures are in the low 80s at mid afternoon, and the radar is clear in all directions.

Tonight and Tomorrow

For tonight, low temperatures will again be in the mid 60s in the city, near 60 in the suburbs. Tomorrow will be similar to today, with a few scattered clouds, highs in the low 80s, and comfortable humidity.

Tropical Beat

Tropical Depression 16 emerged from the low-pressure area in the western Bahamas this morning. It is currently stationary, but a slow north-northwest movement is expected later today. A NOAA reconnaissance plane was approaching early this afternoon. Since conditions are favorable for development, a tropical storm warning has been issued for the Florida coast from Jupiter to Titusville. Although this storm formed near the birthplace of Katrina, the upper-air flow is a little more favorable for keeping it on the Atlantic coast. The "cone of uncertainty", however, is a circle which reaches as far west as the Mississippi/Alabama border. If this storm becomes Ophelia, it will join just 4 other "O" storms since 1950, only one of which (Opal, 9-27-95) occurred before late November.

Hurricane Maria's peak winds of 100 mph have decreased to 80 as it continues to move northeastward away from land, about 575 miles east of Bermuda.

Tropical Storm Nate has become a little stronger at 60 mph. It is nearly stationary 275 miles south-southwest of Bermuda and is expected to remain so for the next 12 to 24 hours, eventually threatening Bermuda late in the week. It has the potential to become a hurricane tomorrow.

Katrina Catastrophe

The National Weather Service Employees Association has set up a Disaster Assistance Fund to help NWS families affected by Katrina.

As assistance efforts shift from rescue to recovery, attempts continue to put Katrina into historical perspective. NOAA's National Climatic Data Center has a preliminary summary of the storm on their web site. The worst natural disaster of any kind by number of deaths in the U.S. was the Galveston hurricane of September 1900. That storm was so devastating that there was only an estimate of the number of casualties, but the number which is generally accepted is 8000. The wider impact of Katrina has inspired fears that this total may be exceeded; let's hope that is not the case. The worst hurricane death toll in the western hemisphere was 20,000-22,000 in the West Indies and offshore in October 1780. Hurricane Mitch in October 1998 resulted in over 18,000 dead and missing from floods in Central America. The Galveston hurricane is third on this all-time list.

The insured losses from Katrina were recently estimated at $25-35 billion, with the total economic losses at $100 billion. Andrew leads the damage list at $34 billion in year 2000 dollars. In 1998, Pielke and Landsea did an analysis of what historical storms would cost then, considering increases of population and property in the same areas that were hit. On this scale, the storm of 1926 in southeastern Florida and Alabama is first, with a total of $87 billion (year 2000 dollars). Andrew is second at $39.9 billion.

Seasonal Outlook

Latest seasonal forecast: Click here.

Latest 3-month temperature outlook from Climate Prediction Center/NWS/NOAA.