Category Archives: Mother Nature

“On The Ground in Haiti,” by Alpha Unit

New Alpha Unit on the Haiti catastrophe. I like Doctors Without Borders. A great organization.

Fractures. Burns. Open wounds. Amputations. These are some of the injuries and surgical necessities being dealt with in Haiti by Doctors Without Borders. They are reporting that they are now treating gunshot wounds. Understandably, violence has been on the increase in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck on January 12.

Not only has Doctors Without Borders set up hospitals in Port-au-Prince, they have paid special attention to western Haiti, location of the quake’s epicenter, where the devastation has resulted in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. People are sleeping in the streets. So far there is very little help for them.

It’s all over the news that Doctors Without Borders, which already had a presence in Haiti, has had difficulty landing some of their cargo planes carrying surgical equipment and surgical teams. Apparently there is great confusion in giving planes the necessary clearance. According to Benoit Leduc, operations manager for Haiti, there isn’t a “smooth liaison” in decision making between the United States military and the United Nations.

Doctors Without Borders has been in the middle of humanitarian crises like this one since its founding in 1971. A group of French doctors created it after the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970. The southeastern region of Nigeria had broken off to form the independent nation of Biafra.

France had been the only major country to support Biafra (France wasn’t exactly neutral in all this; it had its own interests in the conflict.) Some French doctors had volunteered with the Red Cross to work in hospitals in the region. But the volunteers found themselves under attack by the Nigerian army, and also saw abuses against civilians.

A principle dear to the Red Cross was neutrality. It did not allow itself to take sides in any hostilities or inject itself into religious, political, or ideological disputes. These doctors wanted to focus solely on the needs of victims, without being beholden to appearances of “not taking sides.”

The group, in fact, does not take sides. But as they learned long ago, unfortunately, humanitarian groups have been attacked if ruling powers perceived them to be doing so.

Of course, Haiti is a different story. The enemy here seems to be the chaos following the devastation of last week’s earthquake. Life-saving endeavors proceed in spite of it.

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Filed under Alpha Unit, Caribbean, Death, Earthquakes, Guest Posts, Haiti, Health, Illness, Latin America, Medicine, Mother Nature, Public Health, Regional

Mountain Yellow-Legged Frogs in the Sierra Nevada

Repost from the old site.

I don’t write much about amphibians on here, but I am amphibian nut, in addition to being a mammal, reptile and bird nut. I would be a plant and insect nut too if I could only figure out how to identify them. I’m interested in fish, but they are a little harder to observe in the wild unless they are at the end of your hook.

Anyway, I have long taken an interest in amphibians here in California and to a much lesser extent, throughout the entire West. I am particularly interested in threatened and endangered amphibians here in the state.

The mountain yellow-legged frog has declined disastrously here in the state, starting with heavy fish stocking in the Sierras by pack mules, and then declining wildly with arial stocking of high country lakes via airplane that began after World War 2. This arial stocking has since proven to be one of the stupidest things that the California Department of Fish and Game has ever done.

Every year, countless fingerlings were dropped into lakes all up and down the Sierras, even though after a while almost all of these lakes had completely self-sustaining populations and many lakes saw few if any fishermen in a given year. Furthermore, the populations grew so high that the fish became stunted and malnourished.

In addition, they caused serious problems to the entire ecosystem of the Sierra. This is because in general, fish were absent from much of the high country in the Sierra. The exception was in the Southern Sierra, where the golden trout was native. In the North, Paiute Cutthroats and Lahontan Cutthroats were native to some streams.

Rainbow trout were present, but mostly at the lower elevations. Apparently the streams were so steep that trout were not able to climb up the rivers and creeks to even get into the high country. When men first came in numbers to the High Sierras in the late 1800′s, they found most waterways devoid of fish.

However, there were vast populations of amphibians, in particular mountain yellow-legged frogs. They were so numerous at many high country lakes that you could almost hardly walk around without almost stepping on them.

Before World War 2, limited fish stocking began in the Sierras. Stocking was done in the high country via mule trains and was not particularly effective. However, the stocking was already starting to cause declines in the mountain yellow-legged frog population.

After WW2, arial stocking began and soon turned into a comedy routine and a massive waste of taxpayer money. The CDFG was addicted to fish stocking in the Sierras and refused to stop it or even study it even when environmental groups demanded that they do so.

CDFG claimed that the fish stocking program was somehow exempt from CEQA, California’s landmark environmental law and probably the one law that California’s business class hates more than anything else. Business interests have been trying to get rid of CEQA for decades now, but it’s not going anywhere.

The reason environmental groups wanted the stocking stopped was because studies began to show that fish were having a devastating effect on the mountain yellow-legged frog (MYLF) populations. This is because the MYLF did not evolve in the presence of fish and hence had adopted no defenses against them. Wherever fish were present, MYLF was either not present or there in only reduced numbers.

The fact that CDFG dragged their heels on protecting the MYLF for ages shows that CDFG hardly has an environmentalist agenda at all. They almost never propose any species for threatened or endangered (T & E) status anymore, and usually reject almost all petitions by environmental groups to list anything. They hardly protect anything once it does get listed anyway, so one wonders what good the listing even does.

The CDFG screams that budget cuts means they can’t do anything at all, and another problem is that much of their budget is funded out of fishing and hunting licenses. I have met quite a few individual biologists who work for the agency and by and large they are good folks. I think that there are political appointees at the top that thwart just about anything reasonable getting done though.

It’s not well understood that California is not really a very liberal state in many ways. The voters are still mostly White and older and they are much more conservative than the population as a whole.

Despite blatherings by White Nationalists that Euro Whites are the only race that bother to protect any nonhuman life that lacks utilitarian use for man, since 1980 and US Whites voting rightwing, there has been no greater enemy of the environment and nonhuman life in the US than Whites.

These Whites have solidly supported a pro-business and pro-corporate agenda that has declared war on the environment and every living thing in it. If we let capitalists have their way, they will exterminate all nonutilitarian nonhuman life on this planet, all because those living things get in the way of making a buck.

Hence we have a state run by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger that is almost totally beholden to corporate and business interests. This has been the case for every California governor since Jerry Brown.

Anyway, various hypotheses have been proposed for the decline of the MYLF. The non-native fish hypothesis has born out well. Pesticides from the Central Valley drifting up the mountains have also been suspected in the decline, along with the ozone hole.

There is some evidence that pesticides are related to MYLF declines, but testing the ozone hole hypothesis has shown that a thinning ozone layer is not frying frog eggs, even at high elevations. However, the thinning ozone layer has been having a bad effect on other frog and toad species. It seems that different species are variably effected by the thinning ozone layer.

Another hypothesis has been that a fungus called chytrid has been killing MYLF’s. This seems to be the case, and the killings are accelerating. Chytrid has been devastating frog and toad populations in various distant parts of the world, especially North, Central and South America and Australia.

An article was recently published in the journal Nature claiming that global warming was causing chytrid to spread. However, a subsequent article was published in another journal that seemed to indicate that global warming had not been proven to be behind chytrid’s spread. A cautious analysis seems to indicate that neither side has proven its case yet.

This particular type of chytrid seems to have escaped from a lab in Australia and has since been devastating frog and toad populations. First it pounded populations in Australia, then it moved to the Americas. Frogs and toads may not have evolved with this fungus, so it’s been hammering them hard. If any frogs and toads can survive the fungus, they may be able to pass on an immunity to it and enable the species to survive.

There have been widespread chytrid outbreaks in the Sierras in recent years. Just when some recent efforts to eliminate fish from some national park waters in the Sierra seemed to be bearing fruit, the fungus has been nailing the MYLF but hard. There have been 25-30% reductions of all types of frog populations in the Sierra over the past five years due to the fungus.

One theory is that the fungus has always been there but that recent environmental changes such as industrial and agricultural contaminants in the air, the frogs’ immune systems have been compromised, making them susceptible to the fungus.

However, some populations get hit very hard by the fungus for a while and then bounce back. The theory is that they have some sort of genetic resistance to the fungus. If this is true, then maybe the MYLF can survive in the Sierra after all.

As usual, the Bush Administration, the most anti-environmental President in recent history, refused to list the MYLF although it has been petitioned repeatedly. The most recent designation is “warranted but precluded “.

This is a sickening game that the Fish and Wildlife Service has been playing for some time now, dating back the “liberal” Clinton Era. The game says that the species qualifies for listing, but there are no funds to list it. It’s just a despicable bureaucratic game. How much does it cost to publish a listing notice in the Federal Register? Very little.

At the same time that the Administration pricks whine that there is no money to list any new species, they cynically and dishonestly cut the budget for listing new species! “Liberal” Bill Clinton started this bullshit, but Bush took it to overdrive. Sometimes, there is no lower life form than a politician.

Anyway, there are all sorts of species sitting on this idiotic warranted but precluded crap list for ages now. As the MYLF has declined by 93.3% in the last 100 years, that’s an endangered listing right there, and I’m not even a biologist. I know the listing criteria.

The Southern California population, which may be a separate species, is virtually extinct. It has declined by 99%. The Bush Administration did list this frog, but it’s almost gone anyway, as there are only 79 frogs left.

Probably no man has done more to save the MYLF than Roland Knapp, a Research Biologist at the University of California Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory.

These guys associated with universities are usually pretty honest and non-corrupted, while the fisheries and wildlife biologists and botanists I met working for the local National Forest were some of the most awful, corrupted and dishonest people I have ever met. If you don’t care about species and whether they go extinct or not, don’t take a job with the feds dedicated to protecting them.

The local national forest, the Sierra National Forest, is doing absolutely nothing to my knowledge to protect MYLF and MYLF is almost gone from Sierra National Forests anyway. Truth is that even USFS wildlife and fisheries biologists are ecstatic if a rare species of extirpated or nearly extirpated from their forest. Now we don’t have to save it! Less paperwork! I’m not kidding.

It was Knapp’s research a while back that conclusively proved that it was nonnative fish that were driving the MYLF extinct.

Knapp’s MYLF blog. Knapp’s MYLF page.

Fishermen are understandably upset about fish removal projects in the Sierras. To date, these projects have been very limited. It is probable that the main reason that the Feds are not listing the frog is that a listing would mandate fish removal from many or most Sierra waters. Those fish were not even there to begin with, and the MYLF is only present at high elevations anyway. There are plenty of low elevations to fish in.

I’ve done fishing in the High Sierras myself, but if you are so shallow that you can’t hike into the High Sierras and just dig it for what it is without wetting a line, I don’t even think you should even be back there.

Even better, fish removal would probably reduce the number of humans in the backcountry. It’s mostly wilderness anyway, so why do we need tons of people back there? They can remove the fish from most of those waters for all I care. If there are no fish in the lakes, just bring a book or lie on your back or explore around all day.

Recent research indicates that there are three separate genetic units of the MYLF in the Sierras, a Northern, Central and Southern genetic unit. At present, these have been split off into a new species, the Sierra Yellow-Legged Frog , or Rana Sierrae.

The Southern California population and some southern Sierra populations have been split into a whole new species, the Southern Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog. Distribution maps for Rana Sierrae and Rana Muscosa. Rationale for the split. The two species are estimated to have split 2.4 million (!) years ago. Hence, the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog, the subject of this post, no longer exists in its former form.

This split was done on the basis of an article last year (Vredenburg et al 2007). Whether the three separate genetic clades of the Sierra Yellow-Legged Frog warrant splits into subspecies has not yet been determined. In order to split into subspecies, usually a certain X genetic distance must be shown.

In February of this year, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned again to list Rana Sierrae as endangered. Surely it qualifies.

Lots of cool frog, tadpole and terrain photos at the links.

References

Lips, Karen R., Diffendorfer, Jay, Mendelson III, Joseph R., Sears, Michael W. 2008. Riding the Wave: Reconciling the Roles of Disease and Climate Change in Amphibian Declines. PLoS Biology Vol. 6, No. 3.Pounds JA, Bustamante MR, Coloma LA, Consuegra JA, Fogden MPL, et al. 2006. Widespread Amphibian Extinctions From Epidemic Disease Driven by Global Warming. Nature 39: 161–167.

Vredenburg, V. T., R. Bingham, R. Knapp, J. A. T. Morgan, C. Moritz, and D. Wake. 2007. Concordant Molecular And Phenotypic Data Delineate New Taxonomy And Conservation Priorities For The Endangered Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog. Journal of Zoology 271:361-374.

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Filed under Americas, Biology, California, Conservatism, Democrats, Endangered Species, Environmentalism, Evolution, Genetics, Global Warming, Mother Nature, North America, Political Science, Pollution, Regional, Reposts From The Old Site, Republicans, Science, US Politics, USA, Weather, West

Tsunami Kills 134 People in Samoa

An incredibly huge 7.9-8.3 magnitude earthquake hit the South Pacific early on Tuesday.

The tsunami caused some waves that were 5 feet above height, and there were deaths from the tsunami in both American Samoa and Western Samoa, over 100 deaths in Western Samoa and 34 deaths in American Samoa. 1 New Zealander, 3 Koreans and 1 Australian were among the victims. 6 Australians and 1 Koreans were still missing. 5% of the Australians living in Samoa were either killed or missing. Another 145 people were injured and whole villages were wiped out.

Fautasi was one village that was completely obliterated. There were at least 5 dead in the village, and the death toll there could go into the 100′s in that village alone. The village of Salesatele was destroyed, and 37 bodies have been found there.

A reporter saw at least 20 bodies in the southeastern town of Lalomanu. The town and surrounding region were flattened. There were 7-8 dead in Malaela, and many are missing. There were also many dead in Vailoa and Aleipata.

The village of Sau Sau Beach Fale was wiped out. There were also an unknown number of deaths in Talamoa. 40 bodies had been brought to the local hospital in Apia. 20 bodies were seen in a hospital in the city of Upolu. 100 bodies were reported from the southern coast alone and the total was rising all the time.

Tsunamis were recorded at Apia and Pago Pago in American Samoa. Tsunami waves 15-20 feet high struck Tutuila Island, where Pago Pago is, and moved up to 1.6 miles inland. The National Park Service office on the island was completely obliterated. 80% of the park workers are volunteers are missing.

Hawaii was spared by the tsunami, but waves 1-2 feet higher than normal hit the California coast a couple of hours ago.

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Filed under American Samoa, Earthquakes, Mother Nature, Pacific, Tsunamis, Western Samoa

Awesome Pics of October 2007 California Fires

Repost from the old site.

The fires in California last October 2007 were historic. 1,500 homes and 500,000 acres were burned, 9 people died, and 85 more were injured, including 85 firefighters. Here are some of the more spectacular pictures of the fires.

An incredible photo of Mount San Miguel burning during the Harris Fire on October 23, 2007. I was following all of these fires closely and I remember as this wall of flame charged down Mt. San Miguel towards the homes below. This horrible fire burned 206 homes and 252 outbuildings and damaged 253 structures. It killed 5 people and injured 55 more, 34 firefighters and 21 civilians. What an incredible fire. Those flames must be 100-200 feet high.This photo still creeps me out. It reminds me of some popular horror movie like Friday the 13th. I keep expecting Freddy to pop out and start roaming the streets. This photo was taken in Irvine, California, and the fire is the Santiago Fire. The wall of smoke is so vast it seems to have blotted out the sun altogether. Awesome photo. I’m not sure when this was taken.

Another strange and very creepy photo. A number of fires were burning in and around Santa Clarita northeast of Los Angeles at the time that this photo was taken on October 21, 2007. The fires with the halos around them almost look like UFO’s. The homes in front lit up by street lights adds to the creepy effect.

A strange photo of the Santiago Fire taken on October 23, 2007. The Hellish-appearing flames of the fire seem to loom in the background, while another strange line that looks like headlights on a distant freeway burn closer to town. The photo was taken from Aliso Viejo, with Lake Forest in the foreground.

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Filed under Americas, California, Fires, Mother Nature, Regional, Reposts From The Old Site, USA, West

Final Katrina Death Toll at 4,081

Repost from the old blog. I received a lot of criticism for this, but this is still probably the best death toll for direct and indirect deaths for Hurricane Katrina out there.

I used my own total of 1,723 direct deaths combined with testimony about a study done after the hurricane that showed a huge increase in excess deaths in the period after the hurricane was over. The resulting total of 4,081 is probably the most accurate total out there for direct and indirect deaths from the storm so far, unless someone has added in some more indirect deaths. This figure came under some criticism, but it is based on the solid epidemiological theory of excess mortality.

My official death toll of 1,723, representing deaths due to immediate and direct effects of the storm, has not changed since August 22, 2006. However, we now have a fascinating document that comes from testimony delivered to Congress, which has caused me to raise the total deaths from Katrina due to direct and immediate plus delayed effects to 4,081.

For those who are interested, a list of 1,195 people who were killed in the hurricane is available here.

The testimony was part of a hearing titled Post Katrina Health Care: Continuing Concerns and Immediate Needs in the New Orleans Region given before the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on March 13, 2007.

The list of speakers is here. Of particular interest in terms of the Katrina death toll was the testimony given by a physician, Dr. Kevin Stephens, Sr., Director pf the New Orleans Health Department.

In his testimony (pdf), Stephens points out that New Orleans already had serious public health problems before the hurricane, including large numbers of poor and uninsured people. The number of doctors has been reduced by 70% and the number of hospital beds in Orleans Parish has been reduced by 75%.

In some areas such as the Lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East in Orleans Parish and Chalmette and other places in St. Bernard Parish, residents have no access to health care whatsoever. Mental health is another serious problem: even last year, 20% of residents reported suffering from severe stress and depression.

Yet the number of mental health inpatient beds has been reduced by 83% and the number of psychiatrists has dropped by 90%. Residents reported observing a larger than usual number of death notices in the newspaper, even long after Katrina and into 2006. At the same time, even months after the storm, residents reported going to more funerals than they ever had.

These anecdotal reports caused Stephens and a team to undertake a study to count the number of death notices in the New Orleans Times-Picayune and compare it to a reference year which would serve as a baseline. 2003 was chosen as a reference year. The data can be seen on page nine of the testimony linked above.

In the first six months of 2003, 5,544 deaths were counted. In the first six months of 2006, 7,902 were counted, an increase of 2,358 deaths over baseline in the post-Katrina period. Based on this, we will assign 2,358 deaths as caused by the accelerated death rates that occurred in New Orleans even long after the storm.

Although the population of New Orleans is only 1/2 what it was prior to the storm, the obituaries covered not only New Orleans but also included many of the refugees tossed about to various parts of the country.

Based on this new information, we can add the previous toll of 1,723 to the new post-Katrina figure of 2,358 to posit a new unofficial death toll of 4,081. Possible causes of the excess deaths in 2006 include stress, suicide, pollution, contamination, impoverishment and the devastation of the heath sector after Katrina. For instance, the suicide rate tripled in the first 10 months after Katrina.

Thanks to Ezra Boyd of Louisiana State University for sending me this information.

Louisiana 20061: Tue., Mar. 13, 2007: 2,358
Louisiana:       Mon., Aug. 2, 2006:  1,464
Mississippi:     Tue., Jan. 24, 2006:   238
Florida:         Mon., Jan. 9, 2006:     14
Georgia:         Mon., Jan. 9, 2006:      2
Alabama:         Mon., Jan. 9, 2006:      2
Ohio2:           Wed., Aug. 31, 2005:     2
Kentucky3:       Wed., Aug. 31, 2005:     1
Total:                                4,081

Footnoted totals are controversial. Explanations for controversial totals follows:

1The explanation for the 2,358 excess deaths in the first six months of 2006 as compared to the baseline of the first six months of 2003, presumably due to various effects of Hurricane Katrina, is above. This total reflects deaths due to delayed effects, whereas the other figures all represent more immediate and direct effects of the storm.

2The two Ohio victims are Cassondra Ground, 19, of Monroeville, Ohio, and Thelma Niedzinski, 84, of Norwalk, Ohio. Both were killed in a car accident near Monroeville, Ohio on August 30, 2005. The Ohio State Highway Patrol felt that a wet road caused by Hurricane Katrina caused the car accident. See Ohioans Focus on Helping Katrina Victims, Jay Cohen, Associated Press, August 31, 2005.

3The Kentucky victim was Deanna Petsch, 10, of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. On August 29, 2005, she fell into a Hurricane Katrina-swollen ditch in Hopkinsville and drowned. See Storm Surge: State Gets Soaked, City Avoids Major Flooding, Homes, Life Lost in Hopkinsville, Sheldon S. Shafer and James Malone, The Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal, August 31, 2005.

Update: This post has been linked on the always-excellent blog Majikthise and criticized in the comments there. The comments question how the 2,368 excess deaths after Katrina can possibly be attributed to Hurricane Katrina. Answer: They cannot.

But using that number is perfectly in accord with the Theory of Excess Mortality. That theory is widely used by epidemiologists, and was used by Les Roberts’ team to come up with the figure of 655,000 excess deaths in Iraq since the US invasion.

Dr. Gideon Polya has done a lot of work in the area of excess mortality and avoidable mortality, some of which has been published in peer-reviewed journals. Examples of his work are here, here and here.

Can we prove that anything in particular is causing excess mortality in any particular place, absent disaster or war? Nope. But something is killing people in various places at various times at an excessive rate. Anecdotal evidence indicated that many more people than normal were dying in New Orleans in the three to nine months post-Hurricane Katrina. Something was killing them.

They just didn’t up and decide that 2006 was a nice year for dying. Barring other reasonable factors, we may assume that Hurricane Katrina had something to do with the excess deaths in New Orleans. The theory and methodology used in my Katrina excess deaths post in no less rigorous than that used by Roberts, Polya and epidemiologists everywhere.

This comment in the same thread on Majikthise backs up my comments quite well.

This research takes a lot of time, and I do not get paid anything for it. If you think this website is valuable to you, please consider a a contribution to support more of this valuable research.

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Filed under Americas, Health, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, Louisiana, Public Health, Regional, Reposts From The Old Site, South, USA, Weather

Final Katrina Direct Death Toll At 1,723

Repost from the old blog. This is my tally of the final death toll from Hurricane Katrina from a number of sources. I am not sure if it differs a bit from the official toll, but if it does, I am confident that my total if the better one. It was quoted as the official toll on Wikipedia for a long time.

Update: The indirect Katrina death toll has risen from 1,723 to 4,098 as of March 13, 2007. See my post, Final Katrina Death Toll at 4,081 for details. A list of 1,195 people who were killed in Hurricane Katrina is available on this website here.

For what it’s worth, Seth Abramson, an attorney/poet blogger, has been hammering away at the discrepancies in Mississippi’s death toll for some time now, making various allegations that Haley Barbour is hiding the real death toll in Mississippi.

It is true that the suicide rate in New Orleans went up after Hurricane Katrina for a number of months, but the only figures available are per 1000,000 population figures, and until we can determine the population of New Orleans month by month post-Katrina, there is no way to figure out what that number is.

It is helpful to look at a couple of overviews of what Hurricane Katrina actually was. First, a timeline, and then a fact sheet (both the timeline and the fact sheet are from the producers of Surviving Katrina, a promising documentary directed by Phil Craig and produced by the Discovery Channel. This film will be showing on August 27 at 9 PM across the US:

Timeline

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hurricane Katrina starts forming over the Bahamas and is identified by the National Hurricane Centre at 5 PM as Tropical Depression 12.

Wednesday, August 24

Tropical Depression 12 strengthens into a tropical storm and is named Katrina.

Thursday, August 25

Katrina strikes Florida as a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 80 MPH.
Long-range forecasting predicts Katrina will make landfall in the Florida Panhandle, well to the East of New Orleans. It is expected that Katrina will move immediately in a northward direction.

Friday, August 26

At 5 PM, Hurricane Katrina moves into the Gulf of Mexico and quickly grows into a category 2 hurricane with 100 MPH winds. As Hurricane Katrina enters the Gulf of Mexico conditions are perfect for a hurricane to rapidly intensify:

1) Warm ocean temperatures
2) Moist atmospheric conditions
3) A lack of wind sheer (winds that disrupt the motion of a storm)

High pressures over the Gulf drive Katrina further west. Katrina is moving in a westerly direction and the National Hurricane Center forecast track shifts towards New Orleans. The Florida Panhandle is no longer in Katrina’s sights and landfall is now expected somewhere in Mississippi or Louisiana.

Saturday, August 27

At 4 AM, Katrina is now a Category 3 storm and continues to move in a westerly direction. Katrina also continues to rapidly intensify due to the sustained conditions for hurricane growth in the Gulf of Mexico.

The hurricane forecast track has Katrina moving northwest over the next 24 hours towards New Orleans at a speed of 7 MPH. Katrina is roughly 435 miles south of the Mississippi River.

A Category 5 hurricane is a very rare occurrence; typically we only see one every two years in the Atlantic. Conditions in recent years, however, have been ideal for the fueling of massive Category 5 hurricanes.

Sunday, August 28

At 1 AM, Katrina is upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 145 MPH. Six hours later, Katrina is upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 160 MPH.

The National Weather Service issues this Advisory at 7 AM:

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for the north central gulf coast from Morgan City, Louisiana eastward to the Alabama/Florida border – including the City of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain – preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.

At 4 PM, the National Weather Service continues to update on the potential threat to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast from storm surge:

Coastal storm surge flooding of 18 to 22 feet above normal tide levels – locally as high as 28 feet – along with large and dangerous battering waves – can be expected near and to the east of where the center makes landfall. Some levees in New Orleans area could be overtopped. Significant storm surge will occur elsewhere along the central and northeastern Gulf of Mexico Coast.

Monday, August 29

In the early hours of Monday morning, Katrina begins to weaken and by 2 AM is already classed by the National Weather Service as a Category 4 storm.

At 5 AM, one hour before Katrina’s first landfall, Katrina’s associated storm surge begins to cross Lake Borgne from the Gulf of Mexico and starts to batter the eastern flood defenses of Greater New Orleans. The storm surge is also carried towards the city’s Industrial Canal and Lake Pontchartrain along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

Storm surge heights at landfall peaked at around 25 feet as they came ashore – the largest recorded in U.S. history – breaking the previous record set by Hurricane Camille in 1969. Storm surges can be the most devastating part of a hurricane and in Katrina’s case, the storm surges proved much more destructive than the hurricane winds.

Hurricane Katrina makes landfall over the Mississippi Delta as a near Category 4 storm and then makes another landfall on the Mississippi-Louisiana border as a Category 3 hurricane. Hurricane Katrina’s core winds hit the Mississippi Coast and New Orleans experiences the weaker winds on the western side of Katrina.

These winds, moving from the North to the South, create a second storm surge on Lake Pontchartrain – about 11 feet high – which races towards the northern flood defenses of the city, ultimately leading to the breaches in the 17th Street and London Avenue drainage canals that flood Metropolitan New Orleans.

By 2 PM Katrina has weakened to a Category 2 storm as it continues to move inland. By Tuesday, Katrina weakens to a tropical depression.

Hurricane Katrina Fact Sheet

Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States, killing over 1,700 people.

  • The confirmed death toll (total of direct and indirect deaths) stood at 1,723, mainly from Louisiana (1,464) and Mississippi (238). However, 135 people remain categorized as missing in Louisiana, so this number is not final. Many of the deaths are indirect. It is almost impossible to determine the exact cause of some of the fatalities.
  • Katrina was the largest hurricane of its strength to approach the United States in recorded history; its sheer size caused devastation over 100 miles (160 km) from the center. The storm surge caused major or catastrophic damage along the coastlines of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, including the cities of Mobile, Alabama, Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi, and Slidell, Louisiana.
  • Katrina was the eleventh named storm, the fifth hurricane, the third major hurricane, and the second category 5 hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It was also the sixth strongest hurricane ever recorded, and the third strongest landfalling U.S. hurricane ever recorded.
  • New Orleans’ levee failures were found to be primarily the result of system design flaws, combined with the lack of adequate maintenance. According to an investigation by the National Science Foundation, those responsible for the conception, design, construction, and maintenance of the region’s flood-control system apparently failed to pay sufficient attention to public safety.
  • Hurricane Katrina was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, with estimated damages resulting in $75 billion (in 2005 US dollars).
  • > As of April 2006, the Bush Administration has sought $105 billion for repairs and reconstruction in the region. This does not account for damage to the economy caused by potential interruption of the oil supply and exports of commodities such as grain.
  • More than seventy countries pledged monetary donations or other assistance. Kuwait made the largest single pledge, $500 million; other large donations were made by Qatar ($100 million), India, China (both $5 million), Pakistan ($1.5 million), and Bangladesh ($1 million).
  • The total shut-in oil production from the Gulf of Mexico in the six-month period following the hurricane was approximately 24% of the annual production and the shut-in gas production for the same period was about 18%.
  • The forestry industry in Mississippi was also affected, as 1.3 million acres of forest lands were destroyed. The total loss to the forestry industry due to Katrina is calculated to rise to about $5 billion.
  • Hundreds of thousands of local residents were left unemployed, which will have a trickle-down effect as lower taxes are paid to local governments. Before the hurricane, the region supported approximately one million non-farm jobs, with 600,000 of them in New Orleans. It is estimated that the total economic impact in Louisiana and Mississippi may exceed $150 billion.
  • The American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Common Ground Collective, Emergency Communities, and many other charitable organizations provided housing, food, and water to victims of the storm. These organizations also provided an infrastructure for shelters throughout Louisiana and other states that held thousands of refugees.
Louisiana:   Mon., Aug. 2, 2006:   1,464
Mississippi: Tue., Jan. 24, 2006:  238
Florida:     Mon., Jan. 9, 2006:   14
Georgia:     Mon., Jan. 9, 2006:   2
Alabama:     Mon., Jan. 9, 2006:   2
Ohio1:       Wed., Aug. 31, 2005:  2
Kentucky2:   Wed., Aug. 31, 2005:  1
Total:                             1,723

Footnoted totals are controversial. Explanations for controversial totals follows:

1The two Ohio victims are Cassondra Ground, 19, of Monroeville, Ohio, and Thelma Niedzinski, 84, of Norwalk, Ohio. Both were killed in a car accident near Monroeville, Ohio on August 30, 2005. The Ohio State Highway Patrol felt that a wet road caused by Hurricane Katrina caused the car accident. See Ohioans Focus on Helping Katrina Victims, Jay Cohen, Associated Press, August 31, 2005.

2The Kentucky victim was Deanna Petsch, 10, of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. On August 29, 2005, she fell into a Hurricane Katrina-swollen ditch in Hopkinsville and drowned. See Storm Surge: State Gets Soaked, City Avoids Major Flooding, Homes, Life Lost in Hopkinsville, Sheldon S. Shafer and James Malone, The Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal, August 31, 2005.

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Filed under Americas, Health, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, Louisiana, Public Health, Regional, Reposts From The Old Site, South, USA, Weather

List of Hurricane Katrina Victims

Repost from the old blog. This is to the best of my knowledge, the best and most up to date list of the victims of Hurricane Katrina that available. It was very hard to find, hidden in an obscure corner of the Net, and soon after I grabbed it, the professor who put it up there took it down. To my knowledge, he has not reposted it. If there is a better one out there, let me know.

Finally, at long last, we have an accessible list of victims of Hurricane Katrina. It’s not complete at all, as it only lists 1,195 victims, but it’s a start anyway. The Louisiana Health Department has released a list of 828 victims, but I don’t know where to find that list, and it’s incomplete anyway.

Listing of victims has been quite haphazard. Mississippi listed those directly killed by the storm, while Louisiana chose to list indirect deaths. John Mutter, a professor of geophysics at Colombia University’s Earth Institute, was frustrated by the seeming lack of an accurate death toll, so he decided to try to tally up his own.

Mutter wants a complete list of everyone killed by the storm, directly and indirectly. His list is now pretty much hidden and very hard to find, but in March 2007 I did manage to track it down to an obscure website on Mutter’s homepage. However, he has now removed the list and is not responding to emails about it. I have placed the file here.

The file is an Excel spreadsheet and you need to have a program capable of reading Excel spreadsheets in order to read the document.

I also have a large and detailed report in pdf that breaks the deaths down into all sorts of categories. It is available here.

The list has 1,195 victims listed on it, with a few facts about each victim included in their entry. Mutter’s list is dated October 26, 2006 and there does not seem to be a more updated list. Mutter’s list contains names that are not on the official state tallies. Here is the website for Mutter’s project at Colombia. You can also send him data on any hurricane deaths that may not appear on the list from a form on the site.

As this article makes clear, it seems there are storm victims who have not made it onto either list. Some are well-known, such as Sgt. Paul Accardo of the New Orleans Police Department, who committed suicide a mere six days after the storm.

Others include Jerome “Slim Rome” Spears and his fiance Rachel Harris. Spears shot Harris to death and then killed himself in a rental home in Atlanta, where they had moved as unemployed refugees after the storm.

Some are elderly, such as Dorothy and Sam Cerniglia and Yvonne Aubry. All three saw their health begin a rapid slide to death after the storm hit, dying of conditions that previously had been well-managed.

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The Recrudescence of Lake Aggasiz

Why is Fargo, North Dakota flooding?

I’m not happy with the current explanation, that a massive snow melt combined with ice jams in the Red River have combined to put the river 22 feet above flood level in a frighteningly flat and painfully wide flood plain. The result is bizarre – a huge prairie lake with with sunken civilization islands here and there, dotted with towns and cities somehow barely spared behind towering dikes. But historically speaking, such a vast lake of the prairies is something the land knows too well.

Hence, my preferred explanation. Not meteorology and hydrolics, but instead, a haunting.

From 8,400 years ago, the ghost of the greatest lake that ever existed returning to stalk the frozen plains.

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How To Drive In Rain, Snow and Sleet

I visit and used to live in a part of California that gets lots of all three. For the past several days up here, it has been raining (mostly), sleeting (a lot less) and snowing (just some). Go up the hill a bit, and it starts sleeting and then snowing a lot more. I have front wheel drive (really necessary for driving in that crap) but I hate putting on chains. Here, we don’t salt the roads and no one has snow tires.

People put on snow chains or snow cables instead. I think that’s a royal PITA, so generally I refuse to do it. I’ll just stay home and wait until the snow melts. At this elevation, the snow never lasts long anyway.

I had to drive a bit in the snow on Friday in order to get home. They had a sign saying “Chains Required” at around 1,900 feet, but there were no cops around, so I kept going. The snow was very wet and slushy, you could pretty much drive in it, and there were road tracks cleared in the snow by car tires. I drove very slowly though, and I was pretty scared.

Later, driving into the housing development, you were driving on pure snow, and that was more of a mess. One thing I noticed was that 15 mph was about the proper speed for driving in pure snow with no chains. When I slowed down to 10 mph, I started to bog down in the snow. Heading up more towards 15 mph was better because then I could sort of smash through the stuff. So it looks like it is possible to drive too slow in the snow.

A similar theory must hold for driving in mud, which I do as little of as possible, as it is very easy to get stuck in mud. Drive too slow, and you may just get mud-stuck. You may need to speed up a bit in the mud to smash right through it.

I’ve already run my car off the road three times in the snow in Oakhurst over 15 years. You get hit with a sudden snowstorm out of the blue and you are just stuck in the mess. Or it starts snowing and you think you can make it to where you want to go but you can’t. Both times caused me some monetary damage to my vehicle.

I meet folks down in the Central Valley who say, “Wow, you were up in the snow! That must be so cool!” The Hell it’s cool. I lived in the snow for 16 years. I’ve had enough of the snow for a lifetime. Snow means I can’t drive my car. Snow means I have to be careful walking around or I might slip and fall on my ass. And around here, snow usually means the power goes out, over and over. Snow has caused me $100′s in car repairs. Who needs the snow? What’s so good about it?

Around here, sleet is nothing. You just drive slower than in the rain but not as slow as in the snow. I haven’t crashed yet in sleet. It’s scary, but it’s drivable.

I also drove in some hail the other day. That was pretty weird. After it hails for a while, the road and scenery starts looking white like it just snowed. I slid on a hail-slicked road once, but I didn’t crash. I’ve never crashed in hail either. Hail means really slow down. On Monday, I was driving about 35-40 mph in that messy hail, and the speed limit was 55 mph. Still I got idiot after idiot piling up behind me.

What about ice? Ice is truly horrible. I crashed once on ice, in January 1976 in Snoqualmie Pass in the state of Washington. You couldn’t even see it, and there wasn’t any snow along the road. I guess the road looked sort of shiny, but it wasn’t obvious. The car just turned into an amusement park ride, and next thing I knew, my buddy and I were in a ditch. We were really stoned on Thai weed, so we thought it was hilarious.

Truthfully, it wasn’t all that funny. On the other side of the road, there wasn’t any ditch. There was a mountain slope. We would have headed down that thing and probably run into a tree. Ever run into a tree in a car? You don’t want to do that. No matter how fast you’re going, you’re going zero miles an hour after you hit that tree. No fun.

Rain is interesting. A friend of mine said the other day, “It’s really not possible to drive too slow in the (hard) rain.” That was one of the smartest things I’ve heard in a while! How can you drive too slow in the rain? You can’t. If it’s raining, slow down, idiots!

Here in California, no one knows how to drive in the rain. Californians always speed in the rain. If you drive slow and sensibly in the hard rain (that means driving about 35-40 mph), you get endless trains of clowns piling up behind you, and you have to keep pulling over to let them pass.

I’ve never crashed a car in the rain, and I’ve been driving in the rain my whole life. How do you crash a car in the rain? By being an idiot. Almost everyone who crashes in the rain is driving too fast. That’s all there is to it.

What if there is a puddle or a pool in the road? Shouldn’t you speed up to go through the water so you won’t get stuck in it? If it’s not that deep, probably not. Why not? Because if you drive fast through puddles, the water can splash all over your windshield,  blinding you. Much worse, it can splash all over your engine and get in your distributor cap, stalling your car. And if it’s not that deep, you won’t get stuck anyway.

What if the pool is really deep? Hey, if it’s that deep, you probably shouldn’t even try to drive through it!

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