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HURRICANE IRENE August 28, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Environment, US Politics.

The prediction of increased intensity and frequency of weather events seems to be borne out.

The effect of Hurricane Irene are yet to be seen, although its size and projected extent over a populated area make it impossible to ignore. ABC News reports that tens of thousands of people are moving away from low lying areas and reports:

The densely populated corridor, home to more than 65 million people, is under the threat of flooding, storm surges, power outages and destruction that experts said could cost up to $US12 billion.

The storm surges could it is reported raise water levels by up to 3.4 meters. It looks as if this storm in its effects exceeds the expected range of the infrastructure engineering design. If so it would classify as an extreme weather event as something beyond expectations.

And yet in the same report we are told:

But despite the warnings, many New Yorkers appear “oblivious” to the impending storm according to an ABC broadcaster in New York.

Journalist Scott Spark says that although some New Yorkers are acutely aware of how devastating the hurricane could be, others are simply unfazed.

“One thing that I’ve really sort of gathered is that people in New York feel indestructible. Despite everything that has happened to them, there is a certain sense of indestructibility,” he said.

“And so you have some people that are quite acutely aware of the threat of the cyclone … but to be honest with all the projections it won’t be like a hurricane by the time it gets here.

“Today was a picture perfect summer day in New York – there was not a cloud in the sky – so to be told that tomorrow night the conditions will be similar to a hurricane, it’s kind of unbelievable.”

Spark says many New Yorkers feel the emergency measures being taken by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg are a knee-jerk reaction to last year’s devastating snow storms.

He says there is a feeling that the mayor is overcompensating to make up for his highly criticised response to the storms.

Sounds like a replay of the denialists versus the alarmists.There is something to be said for the idea the storm will lose intensity as it tracks northward, but the weather maps indicate a very weather system expected to reach into Northern Canada. The interactive tracking map at The New York Times indicates that the hurricane is following the coastline. So why it is following this path, and not heading inland at an earlier point as perhaps is more usual? The New York Times reports:

On Saturday morning the hurricane center downgraded the storm from a category two to a category one, indicating that further weakening had occurred overnight. The storm’s maximum sustained winds are 90 miles per hour, with higher gusts, the hurricane center said, but forecasters reminded residents that it remained a very powerful storm.

“Some weakening is expected after Irene reaches the coast of North Carolina,” the hurricane center’s update said, “but Irene is forecast to remain a hurricane as it moves near or over the mid-Atlantic states and New England.”

“The hazards are still the same,” a hurricane specialist at the center, Mike Brennan, said, according to The Associated Press. “The emphasis for this storm is on its size and duration, not necessarily how strong the strongest winds are.”

Juan Cole has, I think, a reasonable summary:

Climate is extremely complex, so that global warming won’t proceed in a straight line, something that helps the skeptics (most of whom are motivated by secret payments from large corporations or are under influence of same).

Right now, the Atlantic is in a warm cycle of 10 to 15 years. During the warm cycle, hurricanes are more frequent and more powerful. The warm cycle this time is slightly warmer, because the average surface temperature of the earth and its oceans has increased over the past century. Thus it is true global warming contributed to Irene’s wrath. But climate change activists should be careful to acknowledge the contribution of the warming cycle.

After the warming cycle, the Atlantic will turn cooler. Global warming may mean it won’t turn as cool as it otherwise would, but the cooling will nevertheless make for less dramatic hurricane seasons for a while in the 2020s. Climate change can only be measured over decades, not by individual events or even short patterns.

And then he points out that US carbon emissions were up by 4% for the last year caused by the increased use of coal. So there is an implication from global warming.

Then there is the issue of the possible economic cost, in a time when the Federal Reserve Chairman and The New York Times editorial is suggesting that economic policy is not as strongly and effectively directed as it should be, and might be. There is the philosophical observation that in times when we are faced with natural disasters, it is government resources and the expression of the common good, in all its forms, including the military, that we rely on. We are relying on the models and predictions of the climate modelling.

The best outcome is for the least damage done, but that may reinforce complacency in the future when warnings are again sounded. Now the weather and the climate is a political debate, rather than a scientific one, in the long term at all our cost.


According to Steve Benen any funding for disaster relief caused by the hurricane will be given on the condition that other government programs will be cut, presumably with the exception of defence spending.

David Swanson has the revolutionary idea that government can be of and for the people, as distinct from promoting the interests of corporations in such places as Libya, although in that case there is now competition for the spoils, notwithstanding the honoring of existing contracts, from such non participants as Germany and China.


The storm associated with Hurricane Irene seems to have visited New York without causing too much damage, although photos of flooded streets are not reassuring.



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