October 2, 2008

Hurricane Ike hits Chicago

Posted: 11:52 AM ET

Hurricane Ike went down in the weather annals as the third-costliest tropical cyclone in U.S. history. Weeks after Ike's landfall, a whirlwind of destruction can still be felt hundreds of miles inland, in the Great Lakes region.

Hurricane Ike
Getty Images/NASA

Heavy rains from Ike and the Pacific Tropical Storm Lowell inundated northwestern Indiana and metro Chicago. The ground was already saturated by a stalled cold front so the increased flooding caused runoffs from streams and rivers, dumping sediment into Lake Michigan and increasing E. coli levels in the water.

United States Geological Survey (USGS) scientists have been monitoring the water in Lake Michigan after Hurricane Ike, as part of an effort to improve predictions of beach water quality.

Dr. Richard Whitman, USGS expert on beach health ,says, "The local effects that Ike had on Lake Michigan's Indiana shoreline, water depth, and water quality have been profound."

Typically after a storm, bacteria levels rise along near-shore water sources, but, Ike brought with it a slew of other problems. The flooding caused by Ike loaded up Lake Michigan with contaminants that could not be diluted for an unprecedented ten days.

The unexpected flooding also made it impossible for wastewater treatment plants to properly treat the overflow of storm water coming in. Run-off from agricultural and septic tanks all increased the E. coli levels in surrounding rivers, which then fed into Lake Michigan. At one point, river water levels during the storm got so high that they actually flooded the sewage plants.

The EPA says that E. coli concentrations of 235 CFU (Colony Forming Unit) per 100 ml of water would be an acceptable risk level for freshwater sources. At the height of its contamination, E. coli levels reached an estimated high of 1,200 CFU per 100 ml of water. In other words, an average of 17 out of 1000 swimmers could expect to get a gastrointestinal illness from swimming in parts of Lake Michigan after Ike, in comparison to the usual 8 out of 1,000 people.

USGS scientists say E. coli levels are now back to normal but the sediments in the water have yet to be cleaned up. Ike proves that we live in a fluid environment and what happens to our neighbors could eventually affect us too, be it upstream or downstream.

Azadeh Ansari, CNN Sci-Tech Unit

Filed under: environment • Flooding • hurricanes • Severe weather • Uncategorized • Weather

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September 6, 2008

Hanna/Ike, 11am Sunday Update

Posted: 12:22 PM ET
Here's the 11am Sunday update, based on the National Hurricane Center's forecast and info from CNN's meteorologists;
IKE:  Category Four, major storm, Max Sustained Winds 135 MPH, forward speed 13 mph.  Ike is tearing through the Turks and Caicos and extreme southern Bahamas, with some potentially catastrophic collateral damage to Haiti from heavy rain, floods, and mudslides.

Projected track of Hurricane Ike as of 11am ET Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Projected track of Hurricane Ike as of 11am ET Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm is now expected to track the length of Cuba, including mountainous areas, that could really deflate the storm.  But after exiting Cuba, Ike will re-intensify, and is expected to recover to Cat Three strength.  All of the forecast models are within about fifty miles of each other for Ike's path across Cuba.
The lower Florida Keys could see some impact from the storm on Tuesday, but are pretty much out of danger from a direct hit.  The forecast models are a bit scattered on an ultimate US landfall, ranging from Galveston Bay/Houston to the west and Mobile Bay to the east.  Earliest possible landfall, if the storm takes the shortest path and stays east, would be Thursday.   Friday or Saturday is more likely, but as always, this is way too far out to make more than a guess for Ike's destination, arrival time, and intensity at landfall.

Hanna is offshore, likely to impact Nova Scotia and Newfoundland today, and tracking to cross the ocean and possibly cause a bit of grief in Scotland/Northern Europe later this week, but its US impacts are done.
Josephine is off the maps completely, now a mid-Atlantic disturbance posing no threat to land.



Peter Dykstra   Esecutive Producer, CNN Science, Tech, & Weather

Filed under: environment • Flooding • hurricanes • meteorology • Oceans • Severe weather • Weather

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August 31, 2008

Weather teams hit the road to capture Gustav's lessons

Posted: 11:14 PM ET

As most of us anxiously watch the path of Hurricane Gustav, satellite images show us the movement of this fierce storm. But satellites and radars are not the only tools that help forecasters predict where, when, and how strong storms will be.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists have placed dozens of these storm surge sensors in the path of Hurricane Gustav. Photo courtesy USGS

In the hours leading up to Gustav's landfall, several teams of scientists slogged through southern Louisiana, deploying weather instruments to get data during the storm. It is information that can both document what this storm is doing, and help forecasters better predict future tropical storms and hurricanes.

Two teams from the Texas Tech University hurricane research team spent Sunday placing two dozen sensors in the path of the storm.

"Basically the idea is to saturate the area with observation, trying to cover south central Louisiana with these probes," said Ian Giammanco, field coordinator for the research team.

The instruments are designed to help meteorologists determine what wind speeds caused what type of damage. Their sensors, seven foot instruments known as "stick-nets," function as complete mini weather stations.

"We hope in the future to be able to do this in real time," said Giammanco.

But for now that option is far too expensive.

The field research is funded by the National Science Foundation and Texas Tech University.

Another team of scientists, from the U. S. Geological Survey, (USGS) positioned about 90 storm surge sensors along the Gulf Coast.

"From those instruments we want to learn the time, the duration, and the velocity of the surge," said Brian McCallum, assistant director of the Georgia Water Science Center.

That information can help forecasters model different types of storms, to help predict their impact.

The USGS first placed these sensors in hurricanes Rita and Wilma in 2005.

Both the Texas Tech and USGS researchers are hunkering down a safe distance from the coast until the storm passes. They will recover their instruments a day or two after the danger has passed.

Marsha Walton, CNN Science and Technology Producer, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Filed under: Flooding • hurricanes • meteorology • Severe weather

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Opportunities missed in preparing for Gustav

Posted: 03:22 PM ET

If there were a Nobel Prize for “I told you so” it might go to Louisiana State University Professor Ivor van Heerden. He warned of the catastrophic consequences a major hurricane would have on New Orleans long before Hurricane Katrina.

LSU Professor Ivor Van Heerden foretold Katrina's damage.  Now he's pointing out missed opportunities to prevent a repeat of the disaster.

LSU Professor Ivor Van Heerden foretold Katrina

And as Hurricane Gustav approaches, he says there were many lost opportunities to strengthen the region’s defenses in the three years since Katrina and Rita.

Among them:
*state and federal officials could have done a lot more to assess the weak links in the levee system, from New Orleans to Morgan City, Louisiana.
*more of an effort should have been made to repair damaged areas on levees. In many places, he said, there is bare soil, no grass at all on the levees.
*both before and after Katrina, he said the Army Corps of Engineers has not allowed enough outside experts to work with them to make improvements

But perhaps the greatest neglect has been restoration of the wetlands off the Louisiana coast. It’s estimated that the cypress swamps and barrier islands are disappearing at the rate of a football field every half hour.

“For 14 years we’ve been trying to get the state to start a more large scale effort to rebuild the barrier islands,” said van Heerden.

These islands act as speed bumps with an approaching storm.

“If the existing barrier islands were a little higher and wider, it could knock two to three feet off the storm surge. It would have been about a $200 million dollar project, it could have been finished by now,” he said.

While coastal authorities in Louisiana did complete some restoration projects, van Heerden said bureaucratic snags kept many others from ever being started: everything from a limit of what companies could dredge in the Gulf, to the cutting and selling of cypress trees for garden mulch.

“This storm has the potential of being a huge economic blow to Louisiana, the United States and it will be felt internationally,” said van Heerden.

He predicted the price of gasoline could go through the roof because of the enormous oil and natural gas interests in the Gulf of Mexico.

But he said the human toll would be greater.

“Who is going to suffer? Not the decision-makers. It is the poor Louisianans. If the [weather] models are correct, Gustav will destroy what Katrina and Rita did not. This is going to be flooding of a much larger area than Katrina,” said van Heerden.

Marsha Walton Science and Technology Producer in New Orleans

Filed under: environment • Flooding • hurricanes • Severe weather • Weather

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August 28, 2008

Katrina again?

Posted: 09:33 AM ET

NOAA's 7am Thursday update shows Gustav taking aim at Jamaica

NOAA's 7am Thursday update shows Gustav taking aim at Jamaica

Wednesday morning, a groan went up in the CNN newsroom as several of us viewed the latest forecast track for Tropical Storm Gustav - projected to strengthen, possibly to a Category Three hurricane. Nearly three years to the day after Katrina flooded New Orleans and leveled much of the Mississippi Coast, we were looking at the possibility of Hurricane Gustav doing the same thing.

Gustav has brought heavy rains and floods to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba. Late Wednesday, the storm took an abrupt left turn. Instead of skirting north of Jamaica, Gustav could now score a direct hit on Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Next stop is the bathtub-warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico - 87 or 88 degrees Fahrenheit in some places. With precious little wind shear to knock the storm down, it's a recipe to cook up a major hurricane, possibly hitting the U.S. Gulf Coast by Tuesday.

If Gustav stays on its current track, it'll pass through the Gulf of Mexico offshore oil fields, offering a possible repeat of the damage and disruptions caused by Katrina, Hurricane Rita a month later, and by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Oil markets are already edgy, with a dollar-a-barrel jump on Wednesday blamed on the risk from this storm.

That's one thing. A repeat of Katrina's damage would be another. If this storm does indeed hit New Orleans and the Mississippi Coast, will it be a knockout blow for a struggling region? As of Thursday morning, the forecast track has shifted a bit to the west of New Orleans. Either way, it's time to say a prayer for the Gulf Coast, and for one of the most unique cities on earth.

There are two other tropical systems worth watching. A tropical depression, located about 400 miles east of Puerto Rico, could reach hurricane force and threaten the Bahamas next week. Another system could form in the mid-Atlantic over the next few days.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech & Weather

Filed under: climate change • environment • Flooding • hurricanes • meteorology • Oceans • Severe weather • Weather

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July 23, 2008

Renting an office in the eye of a hurricane

Posted: 11:39 AM ET

We received this today from CNN producer Alex Walker, who's on the beach at South Padre Island as Hurricane Dolly comes ashore as a Category Two storm. Alex provides a little background on setting up a live shot from a storm while keeping the team safe (He's with meteorologist Reynolds Wolf, photographer Stuart Clark, field tech Jerry Appleman, and satellite truck operator Michael Humphrey).

I haven't seen a single person on or near the beach this morning. Yesterday, as we started feeling winds and rain from some of Dolly's outer bands, residents and tourists flocked to the shore here to look at the white caps and even do a little surfing. Today, the only people I've seen are media crews covering the story.

Reynolds Wolf (in red), live from the beach at South Padre Island. Photographer Stuart Clark is in yellow.

I rented a 2-story banquet hall/restaurant for our liveshots, so we have enough room to accommodate CNN, CNN NewsSource and Univision. NBC wanted this location, and it felt great to scoop the competition and secure a great spot. We have power, and a safe place to take cover. It's nice to be able to duck inside in between liveshots, as the winds are fierce now. The eye of the storm may pass right over us.

We are stuck on this island, to ride out the storm, as the causeway to the mainland is closed. I'm watching some unbelievable surf right now. Off the balcony is a narrow public beach access between the dunes. Last night, bulldozers piled additional sand – about 20 feet long and 5 feet high – to close the passageway. Water is piling up on the other side. I hope it works!

Alex Walker CNN Science & Technology Producer

Filed under: Flooding • hurricanes • meteorology • Severe weather

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May 12, 2008

Nature Gone Wild

Posted: 09:30 AM ET

On the heels of the disastrous Myanmar cyclone ten days ago, nature has had a busy week - with more human tragedy as a consequence.

We awoke this morning to reports of a massive quake near a Chinese city most Westerners have never heard of.    Sichuan Province may be better known to Americans as the home of the giant pandas, and for the region's spicy cuisine.  But Chengdu, obscure to most of us over here, has a metro area larger than any in the U.S. except for New York and Los Angeles. 

At CNN, our first info on a quake anywhere in the world often comes from an automatic email warning system from the U.S. Geological Survey    The 7.8 quake, post-midnight on the East Coast but mid-afternoon in Sichuan Province, China, has a reported death toll in the thousands.   There have been several aftershocks, the largest in the 5 and 6 range on the intensity scale.  The main quake was felt over thousands of miles.

Numerically tame by comparison but just as tragic to those affected were this weekend's tornadoes.  At least 22 Americans died in the Midwest and Southeast.  A relatively small twister ripped up some homes about ten miles from my own house in Ellenwood, Georgia.  Things were much worse in the midwest, where a storm estimated in the EF3 or EF4 range tore through a wide swath of lead-mining country in northeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Missouri.   The National Weather Service has counted 66 tornadoes over the weekend, and the one that ravaged Picher, Oklahoma stayed on the ground for 63 miles.  2008 is well ahead of pace for both the number of tornadoes (over 500), and the death toll they've produced - now 98 for the year.

Had enough?   Heavy rains combined with high tides to force evacuations along the Delaware coast.   On Sunday high winds and low humidity conspired to spark large, sudden wildfires along Florida's East Coast, temporarily closing Interstate 95.

We cover all of this stuff through CNN's domestic and international weather center.   One of our summer interns is starting her first day.  It will be a learning experience.


Peter Dykstra  Executive Producer   CNN Science, Tech, and Weather

Filed under: earthquakes • Flooding • Severe weather • Tornadoes • Weather

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February 8, 2008

Flooded in Defiance, Ohio

Posted: 01:00 PM ET

Last night, we made 4 miles of progress in an hour trying to get to Defiance, Ohio, a town in the NW corner of a state inundated by flooding.

It was bad in Defiance and worse this morning. The problem last night was we kept getting turned around because of high water. Several road blocks kept us from completing the 160 mile drive from Cincinnati.

We were tired, hungry, and it was getting late. And with another 330 a.m. wake up call today, we still had 20 water-dodging miles to go.

We didn’t expect to be on our way to a flood zone. Just hours before we were 500 miles south of here in area hammered by another natural disaster. LIVE from Moulton, Alabama, yesterday morning, we were reporting on the severe tornadoes that ripped across the mid south.

More than 50 people died and hundreds more lost their homes. Detaching emotionally from a story of that magnitude is nearly impossible. Speaking with grief-stricken families is the most difficult part of covering the story.

Another key component is reporting on the science behind the storms. NWS surveyors tell us the tornado near Moulton was rated an EF4, it was over ¼ mile wide with winds over 170mph.

Since we didn’t pack for flood coverage, we’ll be shopping for hip-waders in Defiance. Afterwards, we'll get about 2 hours sleep before the wake-up call.

It reminds us of the funniest quote of our trip regarding fatigue, sitting in Burger King as when we got the call to move to Ohio. Alex declared with a smile, “Just think, you’ll feel just like this tomorrow… but worse.”

Check out the flood conditions at our location.

- CNN’s Rob Marciano and Alex Walker

Filed under: Flooding • Severe weather

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