Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Kick from Mother Nature

We try hard to control our environment, although we’re loathe to admit it.  We have laws that control the behavior of people in public spaces.  We have laws that control how people drive their vehicles.  We have laws that govern buying and selling real estate, commerce, and the way we live in our homes.  What we don’t have is control over the laws of nature.

Meteorologists have worked hard to be able to predict the paths of storms and what our weather will be like as far out as a week.  Mother Nature, however, can change all that, even during the course of one day.  In Minnesota, days can begin sunny, warm and humid, then violent storms drop a deluge of rain as well as the temperature, and it’ll be 20 degrees cooler in the afternoon with an overcast sky.

So, I think the National Hurricane Center, the National Weather Service, and the European Weather Service deserve thousands of kudos for getting it right with Hurricane Sandy.  Considering the storm front moving in from the west and north, and Sandy coming from the south and east, anything could have happened.  As it is, all the weather reports emphasized how massively large Sandy was and that it would affect a huge portion of the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states.  Mother Nature gave them a substantial kick.

Hurricane Sandy (NASA image)
 Florida and the Gulf States were not recipients of that kick.  Does anyone else find that interesting?  We’ve had two hurricanes in the last year that dropped more rain, produced more wind damage and flooding in the Northeast than in the Southeast where historically they usually hit.  Are we looking at a specific effect of global warming?  Or were Irene and Sandy part of a cyclical pattern?

National Guard/USAToday Imaga

Hurricanes can hit anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and along the eastern seaboard of the U.S.  As I understand it, factors that affect their tracks include ocean currents, prevailing winds, the jet streams, and weather fronts.  When they’re over water, they can strengthen and pull more moisture into themselves.  When they’re over land, they weaken and fall apart, much as Sandy has done over the last 24 hours.  What’s been new, especially in the last decade, is how powerful and massive they can become.  Sandy was a “superstorm.”  Chances are good, at this point, that we will see more storms like her in the future, not only in the Atlantic, but also in the Pacific.

In the aftermath of these storms, we’re reminded once again of what’s important.  It’s not politics, either.  It’s making certain that loved ones are alive and well.  It’s cleaning up the damage and figuring out how to proceed with our lives.  For some people on the Jersey shore who have lost everything, they will need our help and support so they’ll have the strength and wherewithal to start over and build new lives.  We’ll mourn the dead, celebrate the living and move on.

But probably the most important thing about this Superstorm Sandy is what we can learn from her, not only from a meteorological standpoint, but also from a preparedness perspective. The forecasters provided the information the east coast needed to preserve life with evacuations and preparations for flooding and power outages.  What else could have been done to prepare?

Well, first, there was that construction crane on West 57th Street in Manhattan…. 

CNN Image


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