For Some, the Next Decade Could Be Their Worst

There isn't much wrong with most of those summerhouses that a really good hurricane wouldn't cure [and] when it comes it may do for the Hamptons what Mrs O'Leary's cow did for Chicago.

- Peter Blake

Hurricane Andrew
Photo source: NOAA AVHRR 2020 UTC 25 August 1992
NASA Goddard Laboratory for Atmospheres Hasler, Pierce, Palaniappan, Manyin

by Brett Martel, Associated Press

Hurricane expert predicts worst damage ever in next 10 years

New Orleans - A top hurricane forecaster predicted on Friday that the increased storm activity over the past 5 years will continue for about 2 decades.  That means damage 5 to 10 times worse than ever before in the Gulf and Atlantic Coast states, Bill Gray said at the National Hurricane Conference, a gathering of experts from around the country and beyond.

The next two decades or so should resemble a stretch seen from the late 1920s through the 1940s.  The big difference is that many more people now live in harm's way, he noted.  Gray, a professor of meteorology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, is well-known for his hurricane season forecasts.

According to Gray, hurricane activity runs in cycles, influenced by the ocean's salt content, currents and water temperature.  He said the busy period ahead will be caused by a cyclical rise in salt content.  Higher salinity changes the ocean currents, which, in turn, makes water temperatures rise.  Hurricanes draw their strength from warm water.

The population in the Gulf and Atlantic Coast states from Texas to Virginia rose from a little more than 24 million in 1930 to about 64 million in 1990, with some of the heaviest development taking place between 1970 and 1990, a period of relatively low hurricane activity.

"I don't think we realise how lucky we've been the last 30 years," Gray said.  In 1999, Gray predicted 14 named storms, 9 of which would become hurricanes, and 4 of which would be classified as major.  As it turned out, there were 12 named storms, 8 of which became hurricanes, with 5 of them major.

For 2000, Gray has predicted 11 named storms including 7 hurricanes, 3 of them major, meaning they pack sustained winds of 110 miles per hour.

Source: NandoTimes 21 April 2000

One of the Best Hurricane Pictures I've Seen...

Hurricane Mitch approaching Honduras

Source: Hal Pierce, Laboratory for Atmospheres, NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre 26 October 1998

See also:

bulletTornado! (further on in this section) - "There was a screaming, hissing sound coming directly from the end of the funnel.  I looked up and to my astonishment I saw right up into the centre of it, about 50 or 100 feet in diameter, and extending straight upward for a distance of at least ½ mile, the whole made brilliantly visible by constant flashes of lightning..."

-------- Original Message --------

Subject: Need Comments...
Date: Sat, 14 Aug 2004 15:45:48 -0400
From: Ruth Hatch <>
To: Cody Hatch <>

Hurricanes Boost Nature's Chances

by Alex Kirby


Barry Truitt, the chief conservation scientist of the Nature Conservancy, said hurricanes were necessary to maintain the habitat shore-nesting birds needed, and also to control predators.  He said: "The Ash Wednesday storm in 1962 I firmly believe killed off all the red foxes and raccoons in this area, though now they're coming back.  We want to see a storm that's big enough to knock all these predators off on the islands.  It's not a catastrophe in Nature to have a storm."

Mr Truitt says beaches are moved so rapidly by storms that they are in effect "high-speed real estate", where traditionally people do not build their homes.  He is hesitant about building there now: "We're going to have to strategically decide what pieces of the coast are worth saving.  If you want to build a house on a barrier island and you've got the money to do it you should be able to do it.  But don't ask me and my government and my tax money to go to saving your home the first time it's threatened by a storm."

Alex Kirby is a BBC News Online environment correspondent

Source: Thursday 22 April 2004

In light of Hurricane Charley, do you think offering disaster relief funds to people who lived on sand is wrong?  (Or even worth a comment...)


-------- Original Message --------

Subject: Re: Need Comments...
Date: Sat, 14 Aug 2004 19:02:12 -0400
From: Cody Hatch <>
To: Ruth Hatch <>


Tricky.  On the one hand - no, of course, they shouldn't be offered disaster relief funds.  Play with fire, get burnt.  If you do help people out when they do something stupid, what you're really going to do is ensure they do a whole lot more of that stupid behaviour in the future because they don't face the penalties.  If someone realises they can build in a beautiful area with low property prices and/or gorgeous views - but occasional storms will wipe their house out but someone else will pay to rebuild it, then of COURSE they'll build there.  AND all their friends too...

On the other hand...

One of the major functions of governments is to bail people out when they do stupid things.  Fire departments put out fires which people were silly enough to start, FDIC ensures deposits when people were inconsiderate enough to deposit them in poorly-run banks, welfare provides money to people who incompetently lost their jobs.  All of these things, to some extent or another, encourages more of the activities they make less painful.

The economic term for this is "moral hazard", and one place it's a very big problem is in emerging markets.  People often buy very high risk (but very high yield) securities from emerging markets (for example, third-world banana republics with unstable governments).  Mostly they make a whole lot of profit - but now and again the country will have some sort of disaster, or a revolution, or whatever, and default, at which point these (mainly wealthy, market-savvy) investors scream for a bailout from the IMF, World Bank, and so on.

If they always get bailed out (and, generally, they do), then there really isn't any risk after all - though the yields are still high; the obvious rational response is for a whole lot more people to invest in emerging markets - including non-wealthy non-market-savvy investors.  Soon, bailing them all out becomes very difficult and expensive, yet at the same time, many of the people involved didn't have the slightest idea what risks they were assuming when they dumped their pension funds into Bolivian bonds, or whatever.

What's the answer?  There isn't one single answer.  In general, if people know the risks they're running, then the risk of disaster should be "priced into" the activity.  The reason real estate is cheap on islands that get hit by hurricanes is because they get hit by hurricanes.  The reason debt from unstable countries pays a high rate of interest is because the countries are unstable.  There's no need to reward people twice for doing something risky - they already get rewarded by the price or the location, or they wouldn't be there to start with.  On the other hand, it's very difficult (and, perhaps, immoral) to stand by while people who didn't have a clue what they were doing get wiped out.

But where do you draw the line?  Hard to say.

This is, incidentally, a similar sort of issue as that which frequently pops up with regard to fast food.  Again, one approach would be to say that people are smart, they can work out what diet they wish to follow, and more power to them - and if that diet consists solely of Big Macs, well, its their life (and a short life it may prove to be).  Of course, if they know the taxpayer will pay for their eventual health care needs, it's not entirely "their life" then, is it?  In which case perhaps we should control their lives to make them more responsible, eliminate the health care to make it their responsibility, or perhaps, just shrug and accept it as a cost of doing business.  (Of course, it may be too high a cost for society to afford.  The jury is still out.)

Come to that, some very similar calculations are involved with recreational drugs.  And bankruptcy.  And probably enough more things that just about everyone is affected in one way or another...

Cody Hatch     <>
"A society that puts equality...ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom." -- Milton Friedman

The article below is similar.  Should people who irresponsibly put their lives in jeopardy again and again be repeated rescued - even if it's at taxpayers expense?  Certainly.  Especially when they always take their 8-year-old son along...

"Disappointed" Rescuers Save Man and Son - Twice

London: Rescuers had an uncomfortable sense of deja vu when they saved a man and his 8-year-old son after they drifted out to sea in an inflatable dinghy.  Just 24 hours earlier the same hapless duo were plucked to safety off a Somerset beach after getting stuck in treacherous mud flats while struggling with a punctured dinghy.  On Friday the would-be sailors were back at it again.

"Very disappointing," was how coastguard Steve Bird characterised the back-to-back life saving rescues.  "Yesterday we had 50 people involved in the rescue ... but, nothing seems to have been learned", he told the BBC.  Coastguards had warned the 30-year-old man of the dangers of the mud after his first rescue the day before.  The next day, they were incredulous.  "We are somewhat surprised that having lost one dinghy in a very dangerous situation, he then acquired another," Swansea Coastguard Watch Manager Helen Hutson said in a statement.

Source: 22 August 2004

Apparently we aren't the only ones who feel this way...

Hurricanes' Lesson: Don't Build on the Beach

by Orrin Pilkey and Andrew Coburn

A record four hurricanes this season have crossed Florida, but the results are not new.  Beaches on the few remaining natural barrier islands have not only survived, they are as healthy as beaches always are after storms.  The natural barrier islands of Florida, like those everywhere, require hurricanes to provide sand in order to survive while sea levels continue to rise.  But it is a different matter on developed islands, where we see promises of cash and a huge outpouring of sympathy for storm victims, including those who owned buildings immediately adjacent to beaches.

In the chaos of the storms' aftermath, we sympathise with beachfront property owners as much as we do with those whose homes were destroyed inland.  But what could be more irresponsible than building next to an eroding beach that is subject to frequent major storms - particularly since the sea level is rising at a rate of about a foot per century along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts?  The storms not only caused major damage to buildings along the beach, but also quantitatively wiped away artificial beaches all over Florida and Alabama.  Replacing the beaches will likely be paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and will cost in excess of $100 million during the next few years.  Hasn't the time come to look at beachfront development more closely?

The long record of storm damage should have provided a clue to beachfront-property owners.  For example, the Florida Panhandle and Alabama coast were hit hard by Hurricanes Frederick (1979), Opal (1995) and now Ivan.  What we discovered from Frederick and Opal (and Hugo in 1989 and Fran in 1996) is that hurricanes are urban-renewal projects.  New buildings that replace damaged buildings are bigger and more costly.  The attitude is, why not rebuild and in a big way, because the federal, state and local governments will be there waiting to help if there's another storm.

Take Gulf Shores, Alabama, where the beach was replenished with federal funding in 2001 and again after Tropical Storm Isidore in 2002.  This year, the federal government will be there again with more money and more sand.  We are spending a huge amount of money to save the property of a very few people.

The price society is paying for beachfront development will only go up, and each storm will make this point again.  But there are some things we can do:

bulletEnd the sympathy for beachfront-property owners and recognise foolish acts for what they are.
bulletEncourage the removal of destroyed and threatened buildings and replace them with natural dunes.
bulletStop charging federal and state taxpayers for replenishing beaches.

If we do replenish, then require communities to prevent the construction of big buildings next to the beach, so we can maintain some degree of flexibility in responding to a rising sea level in the near future.

Pumping sand on a beach is environmentally damaging.  Every critter in the sand is killed.  One of the most telling events during Ivan was the reduction in property damage along a stretch of Alabama shoreline where two rows of dunes had been retained, all because of an endangered beach mouse.  The mice saved buildings by forcing the preservation of the dunes.  Elsewhere in Alabama and Florida, dunes were removed to increase the sea view and building sites.

Americans must learn to look at their shorelines with a long-term view.  To do this, we must step away from the politics of greed and honestly debate the future of our beaches for our great-grandchildren.

Orrin Pilkey is the James B Duke professor emeritus of earth sciences and author of A Celebration of the World's Barrier Islands and How to Read a North Carolina Beach.  Andrew Coburn is associate director of Duke University's Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines.

Source: USA Today Wednesday 29 September 2004

And It's Not Just Hurricanes...

La Conchita, California - where several people were killed in a mudslide in January 2005 Source:

This looks like an accident waiting to happen - and it clearly will happen again and again.  A good third of the hill slumped at one point - it cannot be made safe - and yet residents don't want to leave.  Who should pay when their homes are eventually destroyed?

Sea Surface Temperatures in Hurricane Alley

Click here for a larger image

What makes a hurricane?  First, warm water — at least 82ºF (28ºC).  Several weeks after the sun shines brightest on the tropics in late June in the northern hemisphere, the tropical ocean waters reach their warmest.  In the image above, yellow and orange indicate where the ocean is 82ºF and warmer.  This false-colour map of sea surface temperature was made using data taken by the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer-EOS (AMSR/E), aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite, and composited for the month of May 2002.

Next, add a disturbance, generally easterly waves off of Africa, comprised of winds resulting from the clash between the hot air from over the Sahara Desert and the cooler air over the Gulf of Guinea.  These waves provide the initial energy and spin required for a hurricane to develop.

Every year, the tropical Atlantic becomes a meteorological mixing bowl with all the necessary ingredients for hurricane formation from June 1 to November 30.  Typically, the peak of hurricane season occurs from late August to mid-September, which is usually when tropical cyclones of interest to US coastal regions form around the Cape Verde Islands off Africa.  NASA satellites are playing an increasing role in helping forecasters determine if all of the ingredients are coming together to create a hurricane.  These satellite are also helping researchers track the storms over time and more accurately predict the paths they will take.

Source: NASA GSFC courtesy NASA Earth Observatory 10 September 2003

See also:

bulletWipeout (the page following this one) - "At last the great shaggy end of the funnel hung directly overhead.  Everything was as still as death.  There was a strong gassy odour and it seemed that I could not breathe.  There was a screaming hissing sound coming directly from the end of the funnel.  I looked up and to my astonishment, I saw right into the heart of the funnel..."
bulletA Turn for the Worse - a diagram showing how tornados work.  It is somewhat slow to load but informative.
bullet'Tis the Season to Be Swept Away (further along in this section) - The US is the country with the highest frequency of tornadoes - every state has recorded at least one in its past (although they are extremely rare in Alaska)...
bulletControlling the Weather (further in this section) - "We call it taming the tornado - with just a little burst of microwave energy, we think we see a way to negate the trigger point in tornado creation.  We want to heat the cold rain..."
bulletA Whirlwind Tour of Miami (further in this section) - A spectacular photo...
bulletWinds of Change (the previous page in this section) - A full-fledged hurricane is a vast self-sustaining heat engine 100 times larger than a thunderstorm and 1,000 times more powerful than a tornado.  An ordinary summer afternoon thunderstorm has the energy equivalent of 13 Nagasaki-type atomic bombs.  Most hurricanes have at least 25,000 times that potential for destruction.  One storm in 1928 dropped 2,500 million tons of water on Puerto Rico in just two hours, but this was in fact only a fraction of its total capacity.  An average hurricane precipitates about 20,000 million tons of water a day, which represents the energy equivalent of half a million atom bombs...
bulletA Tremulous Motion and Preparing for the Inevitable (in the section on Wellington)- about Wellington earthquakes past and future.
bulletEnlightening Lightning (further in this section) - Lightning may seem relatively rare, but there are about a hundred flashes a second around the planet.  Ground strikes almost always create currents in the surrounding soil...

For pages on several types of natural disasters - including lightning strikes, tornados, hurricanes, volcanoes, floods, global warming and more - as well as some great satellite and tree photos, clicking the "Up" button immediately below takes you to the Table of Contents page for this Environment section.

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