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 16, 2008

Ike was awful, but it could have been worse

Posted: 04:08 PM ET

Ike roared through Texas, making landfall at the high end of Category Two on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Less than 24 hours earlier, forecasters thought it might come in as a Cat Four storm.

The highest measurements of Ike's storm surge topped out at about 15 feet (although some un-measured areas may have been higher). Forecasters warned it might be twice that in some areas.

Most of the homes in the first photo are gone, in this image taken after Ike departed.

Most of the homes in the first photo are gone, in this image taken after Ike departed.

A USGS photo of homes on the Bolivar Peninsula, taken four days before Ike's arrival.

A USGS photo of homes on the Bolivar Peninsula, taken four days before Ike

And a much-discussed National Weather Service bulletin, issued from Houston a day before landfall, warned of "certain death" for those who failed to evacuate the most vulnerable areas. While the death toll may rise as recovery teams move through the devastated beach towns, it's still surprisingly low given what could have been.

It's small comfort to those who have lost loved ones, or homes, or those who may not see their power turned back on for a month - and those whose lives may never be the same again. But like Katrina - which was a Category Three storm that missed a direct hit on New Orleans - Ike could have been a lot worse.

Either way, we're a little over halfway through the Atlantic hurricane season. Let's hope Ike is the worst we see all year.

–Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech, & Weather

Filed under: hurricanes

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September 15, 2008

Downtown Houston tries to get a handle on cleanup

Posted: 11:35 AM ET

The suit wearing, Starbucks-sipping folks who usually populate downtown Houston on a workday are MIA this Monday morning. They have been replaced with crews using chain saws to move fallen trees out of the streets, and huge trucks hauling generators and cleanup materials.

Windows blew out of high rise buildings in downtown Houston when Ike roared through. It’s an eerily quiet workday this Monday. Photo: CNN

Julio Cisne, who manages a couple of buildings on Main Street, feels very fortunate.

“I only lost two windows,” he said, as he swept up glass next to the Subway restaurant on the first floor. And he’s luckier than the huge majority in this hurricane-ravaged region - his buildings have both water and power.

A few blocks away, three downtown workers are sharing stories and fears with each other.

Marie Elizondo works for a law firm, and waited out the storm in a Houston high rise. While the building she was in fared pretty well, she and the people she hunkered down with witnessed some scary moments watching other buildings on the block.

“We watched the glass pop out, then we saw chairs and computers just flying out the windows,” she said. Shattered glass continued to fall long after Ike departed.

Mary Ann Shelvin and Marciano Leyba both have huge cleanups at home, but reported for work at Ampco System Parking.

“My daughter kept asking, ‘Mom, what’s that?’ when she heard that wind whistling,” said Shelvin. But she is proud that people are helping each other out.

“My neighborhood is trying to stick together,” she said. The people on her block have moved trees and swept up limbs and leaves. But a lot of trees are on top of houses, and virtually no one has power.

Both Elizondo and Shelvin are grateful for the curfew imposed after the storm, to try to keep looters and sightseers from making a bad situation worse.

“We all work too hard for our stuff,” said Shelvin.

And they have seen many random, kind acts. A TV crew let Elizondo charge up her cell phone. A local furniture company gave away ice.

It is a pleasant 71 degrees in Houston today… a welcome respite for people who probably won’t hear an air conditioner click on for weeks.

Marsha Walton, CNN Science and Technology Producer, in Houston

Filed under: hurricanes

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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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September 4, 2008

Tropics brace for the Ike & Hanna show

Posted: 12:42 PM ET

Position of the three tropical systems as of 11am ET Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center

Position of the three tropical systems as of 11am ET Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center

The good news? Josephine is well out in the mid-Atlantic, and if its track holds, it will stay there.
The wobbly path of Tropical Storm Hanna continues, and as of 11am ET Thursday, the best guess of the National Hurricane Center is that the storm will strengthen to a Category One hurricane and make landfall, perhaps near Wilmington, North Carolina, at about midnight Friday. Hanna could spread its damage all the way up the US East Coast as it tracks toward the northeast.

Hurricane Ike could be a big one. It strengthened from a Category One to Category Four storm in less than half a day yesterday, and its current track could bring it into south Florida on Tuesday as a Cat Three. Ike's entry into the Gulf of Mexico is still a strong possibility.

One reason for the projected weakening of the storm is that Hanna could steal some of Ike's thunder (and winds, and rain), according to CNN Meteorologist Rob Marciano: Tropical systems stir up deeper, colder water, and some of the ruckus that Hanna has caused. As Ike passes over that cooler surface water, it could be weakened just a bit.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech & Weather

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

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September 3, 2008

Watching the Arctic ice melt

Posted: 12:59 PM ET

September marks the time of year when polar ice cover is at its lowest. After last year's record low, Arctic researchers say we're in for another bad year – and what is perhaps an irreversible trend.

Polar ice cover as of yesterday. Source: Univ. of Illinois Polar Research Group

On Tuesday, scientists reported another Manhattan-Island-sized chunk broke off an Ice Shelf on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic.

a University of Illinois site allows you to bring the out-of-sight/out-of-mind Arctic to your desktop. If you want to track the day-by-day status of the Arctic ice cap, and compare it to past years, go here. The images, from the Illinois Polar Research Group, track Arctic ice coverage day by day back to 1979. See for yourself, and let us know what you think.

Also - more tomorrow on our parade of hurricanes across the Atlantic: Hanna looks to have uncertain potential for East Coast damage; Josephine hopefully will remain a mid-Atlantic storm and not reach land; but Ike could be a big one for the Gulf of Mexico.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech & Weather

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

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September 2, 2008

'Conga Line' of storms across the Atlantic

Posted: 01:30 PM ET

Just like the dance-hall Conga Lines of the 1950's and earlier, tropical systems are lining up across the Atlantic and headed this way. Let's take a look one-by-one.

As Gustav fades, Hanna, Ike, and Josephine line up to potentially take aim at the US or Caribbean.

As Gustav fades, Hanna, Ike, and Josephine line up to potentially take aim at the US or Caribbean.

Gustav roared through the Gulf Coast, missing a worst-case scenario in New Orleans but causing plenty of damage elsewhere: coastal damage is spread all through Cajun country, and the Mississippi Coast. Heavy rains will continue, and many Louisianans may be without electric power for a week or more.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin tagged the approaching Gustav as the "Mother of All Storms." Nagin, roundly criticized during Katrina as were his state and federal counterparts, effectively frightened his city into a successful evacuation.  In fact, emergency managers on all levels erred on the side of caution rather than repeat the sad blunders of Katrina. And, of course, the levees didn't fail. The bottom line was a measure of reassurance for New Orleans. Whether it was well-placed is another matter.

It's important to bear in mind that neither Gustav nor Katrina brought full fury to New Orleans. Katrina was a Category Three storm when it passed to the east of the city, forcing a wall of water into New Orleans and the Mississippi Coast. Gustav was a Cat Two when it passed far to the west of the city, which was barely on the fringe of hurricane-force winds. Tide gauges measured about a five-foot surge in Lake Ponchartrain yesterday. So the real bottom line may be that a bigger test still awaits the engineers, leaders, and people of New Orleans.

Next up is Hanna, forecast to be a weak hurricane making a U.S landfall Friday, possibly at or near Savannah, Georgia. It's been 110 years since Savannah took a direct hit, the longest lucky streak of any major coastal U.S. city in the hurricane zone. Hanna is now bringing heavy rain to Haiti (as of midday Tuesday).

After that, Ike. While it's too soon to give any definitive forecast for the tropical storm, it could be headed to the Gulf of Mexico, according to several long-range models.

Today the National Hurricane Center named a new one: Josephine, forming as a tropical storm off the African coast, could cross the ocean to threaten in 7 to 10 days.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech & Weather

Filed under: hurricanes • Weather

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September 1, 2008

Baton Rouge emergency responders on Gustav vigil

Posted: 11:53 AM ET

In East Baton Rouge parish, dozens of emergency operations personnel are hunched over their computers, looking at weather maps, power grids, and work schedules. More police are on the streets because all officers are now working 12 hour shifts through Gustav's rage.

East Baton Rouge parish officials wait out the worst blast of Gustav. Source: CNN

Power is starting to go out across this parish, as the number of outages in Louisiana has climbed past 368,000.

Once the winds hit a sustained 30 miles per hour, power crews and some emergency responders will hunker down until the storm passes.

"I'm never confident, I'm cautious," said Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden. He also wears the hat of president of East Baton Rouge parish.

Holden said Hurricane Katrina taught a lot of lessons, among them, urging citizens to take on a bigger dose of personal responsibility.

"We are stressing an ‘adopt a buddy' system, especially for folks who have elderly neighbors," said Holden. "We want them to check on them on a regular basis, to make sure they have food and medicine and make sure they are safe," he said.

Unlike the New Orleans area, this parish did not have any mandatory evacuations. But depending on the amount of flooding here, emergency personnel are gearing up for rescues after the storm passes.

The Baton Rouge Emergency Operations Center is doing double duty. Along with its own fire, police, public works, animal control and other government departments, this very secure facility is also hosting some officials from nearby Jefferson parish, expected to get the full brunt of Gustav.

While first responders are on duty within Jefferson parish, other departments, such as personnel, legal, and environmental services are sharing space with their Baton Rouge counterparts.

"We're just behind the scenes here, trying to keep the government flowing," said Louis Gruntz.

-Marsha Walton, Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: hurricanes • Weather

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August 31, 2008

Pet rescues already underway in New Orleans

Posted: 11:15 PM ET

A rescue group that saved 1200 animals after Hurricane Katrina is back at work in Louisiana.

This puppy now has a safe place to ride out the storm north of St. Bernard parish. Photo courtesy Pasado’s Safe Haven

Overnight they moved 67 animals to safety from the St. Bernard parish [county] shelter to a donated farm near Folsom, Louisiana.

Volunteers from Pasado's Safe Haven, based in Monroe, Washington, took 45 dogs and 22 cats to the 600 acre farm. Among the canines rescued were 8 puppies dumped in the shelter parking lot.

The St. Bernard Shelter has just two employees, and does not have the kind of funding it would take for such a major undertaking as relocating all of its animals. The visiting rescue crew arrived at the farm about 9pm Saturday night, then walked the dogs and cleaned their cages after the journey from the shelter. Some of the volunteers spent the night on air mattresses in the barn with the animals.

But Pasado founder Susan Michaels said the real work will start after Gustav hits.

"Our biggest concern is that a lot of animals will be left behind," said Michaels.

During hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, some residents perished or were stranded when they refused to leave their homes and go to shelters because they could not take their pets. The state of Louisiana made some changes to prevent that kind of tragedy again.

Their major focus was on citizens with special needs. Those with small animals, 15 pounds or less, could bring their animals with them on evacuation buses. Larger animals were crated and transported to two special shelters where pet owners would be near their pets. Those shelters are in Shreveport and Alexandria, Louisiana.

And while there are some other pet/human shelters, state officials have been urging the general population to take care of their pets with the same care as they would any other family member.

"From the commissioner's office to the state veterinarian, we have all been preaching personal responsibility. Planning for an emergency is part of being a responsible pet owner," said Sam Irwin, press secretary for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

The non profit rescue group Pasado's Safe Haven, founded in 1994, has helped pass four anti-cruelty laws. They are looking for volunteers, and provide a no-nonsense list of criteria for those who think they might want to travel to Louisiana AFTER Gustav hits. Among the requirements:

–You will need to be able-bodied
–Be able to lift a minimum of 50 lbs.
–Be willing to muck stalls, clean kennels, walk dogs.
–Have upbeat attitude. No WHINERS.

More information is available at the Pasado web site.

Marsha Walton CNN Science and Technology Producer in New Orleans

Filed under: Animals • hurricanes • Severe weather

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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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