Before I moved to St. Paul a couple years ago, I lived in a large county north of the Twin Cities. When severe stormy weather arose in one part of the county, the sirens would sound, even if the part of the county I lived in was calm and sunny.
That’s all going to change this fall.
The National Weather Service has announced that starting on Oct. 1, it will no longer be issuing severe weather warnings on a county-wide basis. Instead, it will be delineating storm warning areas by geographic landmarks, such as highways and rivers. Storms situations covered by the new warning system include tornadoes, thunderstorms, flash floods and marine hazards.
Watches will still cover entire counties, but those aren’t the conditions when the weather service sounds emergency alarms to take cover.
Even worse than my former personal situation north of the Twin Cities, under the old county-based storm warning system in some parts of the U.S., people could be alerted to a storm and still be more than 100 miles away from the action.
Weather Service Director David Johnson hopes that the new system won’t make people get complacent.
"I do not want to teach America to ignore warnings," Johnson said, so under the new program, "if you get the warning, there is a direct correlation to you being at risk."
Do you think you’ll be able to adjust to the new system? Remember, it doesn’t start until the fall, so any storms we have yet this summer will be reported under the old county-alerting system.
The hurricane season ends on Thursday, and by all accounts it was fairly mild. There were nine storms in total, only five of which were strong enough to be labeled hurricanes. This is one-third the number seen in 2005.
The extremely strong season last year led many experts to predict another bad year in 2006. Some claimed the increase would be caused by global warming. Yet Mother Nature refused to cooperate, producing only half the predicted number of storms, causing the experts to continually revise their projections downward.
This highlights the difficulty of making long-term weather predictions, and should give pause to people eager to link every climate phenomenon to a simple cause.
There is no doubt that global temperatures rose from 1980 to 1998 – yet during that time, hurricanes levels were below average. Since 1998, temperatures have stayed at or near their record-high levels. And while there has been more activity of late, only one of those years was strong enough to suggest a global warming link.
Many climate scientists argue that hurricanes run in cycles – a decade or so with lots of storms, followed by a couple decades of much lower activity. They claim recent increase in storms has less to do with climate change and more to do with this natural process.
All of which shows that more research is needed, and it’s best not to make claims – or policy decisions – based on limited data. One strong hurricane season in 2005 does not “prove” global warming, any more than one weak season in 2006 refutes it.
There's been a rash of cool weather sites written up in the Twin Cities newspapers and other media lately.
Here are just a few:
Skeetobiteweather is one of the most popular hurricane sites run by amateurs. Jonathon Grant, of Lakeland, Florida, runs it. He says the site gets 1.8 million page views a week, and you can plug in your zip code and get a prediction of wind forces for your block, hour-by-hour, before a hurricane hits. (Not even the National Weather Service does that.) And pretty soon, you'll be able to enter your exact address.
Mark Sudduth, of Wilmington, North Carolina, runs HurricaneTrack and HurricaneLiveNet. He deploys several battery-powered, waterproof cameras at the exact points where hurricanes are expected to hit. He also collects weather data to accompany the live, streaming video.
Jesse Bass, of Hampton Roads, Virginia, is a weather chaser who posts photos and commentary on his website, VAStormPhoto.
HurricaneCity, despite its name, is one of the more comprehensive severe weather sites. Jim Williams, of Delray Beach, Florida, focuses on the city being hit, and you can see all live, streaming radio stations or TV from the site. He also has a towercam on his roof, which captured images from Hurricane Wilma last year, and he hosts "The Hurricane Warning Show" from his living room.
Mike Watkins, of Coconut Creek, Florida, covers Atlantic hurricane action on TropicalUpdate. And if there's no news on the hurricane front, he hosts an Internet radio show where he interviews the "celebrities" of the weather world--guys like Max Mayfield, of the National Hurricane Center, or William Gray, the Colorado State University professor who's known for his hurricane season forecasts.
On August 29, 2005, hurricane Katrina crashed into the Gulf Coast, leaving a swath of death and destruction in its wake. And now, a year later, many people are still feeling Katrina’s aftermath. On the anniversary of hurricane Katrina, Science Buzz features a variety of links and resources. We want to hear your natural disaster stories. And Katrina survivors, we especially want to hear from you!
The Hong Kong Observatory reported that an earthquake of magnitude 6.2 has struck central Indonesia. There are not yet any reports of casualties or damages.
The National Museum of American History is in the planning stages of building an exhibition displaying numerous Hurricane Katrina artifacts. The exhibit will be on display after the museum reopens in 2008.
11,000 people have been evacuated from the area surrounding Mount Merapi, as lava and superheated gas poured from the volcano. (This is the same area affected by last week's major earthquake.) Merapi is one of the world's most active and unpredictable volcanos, and some scientists have suggested that the earthquake contributed to this latest round of volcanic activity.
On May 27, a powerful earthquake—centered about ten miles southeast of Yogyakarta—shook Java, Indonesia. It destroyed more than 135,000 houses, leaving 200,000 people homeless, and it killed at least 6234 people, injuring another 46,000. And volcanic activity on nearby Mount Merapi has tripled since the quake, sparking fears of an eruption.
The "ring of fire"
The continents rest on large plates of rock that are slowly moving around the surface of the Earth. Indonesia, a nation of more than 18,000 islands, experiences a lot of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions because it sits along the “ring of fire”—the Pacific Ocean’s zone of active volcanoes and tectonic faults.
Just south of Java, the Australian plate is moving north at two and a half inches each year. Where the Australia plate collides with the Sunda plate—which includes Java—the Australia plate slips under the Java plate in a process geologists call subduction.
Pressure builds up along the fault lines where the plates meet. When the rocks separating the plates suddenly give way, the ground shakes and buckles in what we call an earthquake. Volcanoes are formed when the subducted rock melts and returns to the surface as magma.
How strong was this earthquake?
The United States Geological Survey says the quake measured 6.3 on the Richter scale. This quake didn’t cause tsunamis like the big earthquake in December 2004. But it was shallow—only 6 miles underground—which made the shaking on the surface more intense than other quakes of the same magnitude. And the quake struck at 5:54 am local time, trapping many people in their homes.
How did this earthquake compare to others?
Tsunami warnings have been issued for Fiji and New Zealand after a earthquake of 7.8 magnitude shook the Pacific Ocean.
The quake's epicenter was about 153 miles off the coast of Tonga.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued the alert for Tonga, Niue, American Samoa, Samoa, Fiji, and Wallis-Futuna.
If a tsunami does occur, it could start to affect the islands by as early as 12:15pm (Minnesota time).
We'll post updates...