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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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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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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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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August 20, 2008

Tropics thunder in the Atlantic and Pacific

Posted: 09:50 AM ET

The National Hurricane Center's forecast track for Tropical Storm Fay, as of 8am Wednesday.

The National Hurricane Center's forecast track for Tropical Storm Fay, as of 8am Wednesday.

As the odd, unpredictable path of Tropical Storm Fay crossed Florida and entered the Atlantic, a potentially more dangerous storm zeroed in on the Phillippines.

Typhoon Nuri tore through the northern Phillippines today with sustained winds of 87mph. The storm could impact Taiwan or the Chinese mainland later in the week. Nuri is the twelfth typhoon to hit the Phillippines this year (about 20 is a typical year). A June storm killed over 500 in the island nation.

In the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Fay crossed Florida and as of 9am Wednesday is headed offshore near Cape Canaveral. Defying the norm, Fay actually strengthened as it crossed the soggy land of south Florida and the Everglades, but it seems to have weakened near the Atlantic Coast. Concerns that Fay would increase to hurricane force as it re-enters the warm waters of the Atlantic have lessened. The official National Hurricane Center track still has Fay making another turn westward, coming ashore somewhere between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach. Forecasters say Fay will be a major rainmaker for North Florida, the Panhandle, and South Georgia in the next several days.

It looks like Jacksonville will continue its extraordinarily lucky record of dodging major hurricane damage. Hurricane Dora in 1964 was the last storm to score a direct hit on the city. Luckier still is Savannah, GA, a few hours' drive up the coast. Savannah hasn't experience major hurricane damage for over a century.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science and Technology

Filed under: hurricanes • Severe weather • Weather

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August 5, 2008

Hurricane forecasters: Who gets it right?

Posted: 11:58 AM ET

Tropical Storm Edouard came ashore this morning, a less-than-impressive storm that hopefully won't cause much more than inconvenience to the Texas Gulf Coast.

Also this morning, William Gray and Phil Klotzbach, the Colorado State University hurricane forecasters, issued their updated prediction on how this year's Atlantic hurricane season will turn out, raising their earlier estimates to a total of 17 named storms.

Hurricane paths from the record-setting 2004 season.

ALL OVER THE MAP: Hurricane paths from the 2004 season.


Both the Colorado State team and NOAA's Climate Prediction Center issue annual predictions, and update them throughout the season. Let's take a look at how good a job they've done over the years. The numbers we're using here are the predictions issued each spring before the season gets underway. The teams predict how many tropical storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes they expect:

In 2007, Dr. Gray predicted 17 named storms, NOAA called for 13 to 17. The actual number was 15. Gray said 9 of those storms would become hurricanes last year; NOAA said 7 to 10. We got 6.
Gray said there would be 5 major hurricanes of Category Three or higher; NOAA predicted 3 to 5. We got 2.

Both were fairly close with their 2007 forecasts. There were a few years - notably the monstrous 2005 season - when they weren't close at all. Here are the previous six years' predictions, and realities:

2006: Gray: 17 named storms; 9 hurricanes; 5 major hurricanes
NOAA: 13 to 16 named storms; 8 to 10 hurricanes; 4 to 6 major hurricanes
Real Life: 10 named storms; 5 hurricanes; 2 major hurricanes

2005: Gray: 13 named storms; 7 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
NOAA: 12 to 15 named storms; 7 to 9 hurricanes; 3 to 5 major hurricanes
Real Life: 27 named storms; 15 hurricanes; 7 major hurricanes

2004: Gray: 14 named storms; 8 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
NOAA: 12 to 15 named storms; 6 to 8 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
Real Life: 15 named storms, 9 hurricanes, 6 major hurricanes

2003: Gray: 12 named storms; 8 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
NOAA: 11 to 15 named storms; 6 to 9 hurricanes; 2-4 major hurricanes
Real Life: 16 named storms; 7 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes

2002: Gray: 12 named storms; 7 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
NOAA: 9 to 13 named storms; 6 to 8 hurricanes; 2 to 3 major hurricanes
Real Life: 12 named storms; 4 hurricanes; 2 major hurricanes

2001: Gray: 10 named storms; 6 hurricanes; 2 major hurricanes
NOAA: 9 to 12 named storms; 6 to 8 hurricanes; 2 to 4 major hurricanes
Real Life: 15 named storms; 9 hurricanes; 4 major hurricanes

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech, & Weather

Filed under: hurricanes • meteorology • Severe weather • Weather

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