Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Global Disaster Watch - daily natural disaster updates.

**Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.**
Babe Ruth

LARGEST QUAKES so far today -

Yesterday, 2/3/15 -

HOW TO SURVIVE A DISASTER - In a catastrophic event, most people fail to do the one thing that would save their life. In life-threatening situations, around 75% of people are so bewildered by the situation that they are unable to think clearly or plot their escape. They become mentally paralysed. Just 15% of people, on average, manage to remain calm and rational enough to make decisions that could save their lives. (The remaining 10% are plain dangerous: they freak out and hinder the survival chances of everyone else.) Typically, survivors survive not because they are braver or more heroic than anyone else, but because they are better prepared.
Stories about survival often focus on the 15%, and what is so special about them that helps them stay alive. But this is the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking, why do so many people die when they need not, when they have the physical means to save themselves? Why do so many give up, or fail to adjust to the unfolding crisis? In most disaster scenarios, you don’t need special skills to survive. You just need to know what you should do. Rather than madness, or an animalistic stampede for the exits, it is often people’s disinclination to panic that puts them at higher risk.
We haven’t always had a clear picture of what people really do in emergencies. Engineers designing evacuation procedures used to assume that people respond immediately when they hear an alarm, smell smoke or feel their building shake or their boat begins to list. Yet as cases in recent decades began to show, the real challenge is getting them to move quickly enough.
On 22 August 1985, 55 people died in a Boeing 737 on the runway at Manchester Airport in the UK after the plane suffered engine failure during take-off. The government’s Air Accident Investigations Branch reported: “Perhaps the most striking feature of this accident was the fact that although the aircraft never became airborne and was brought to a halt in a position which allowed an extremely rapid fire-service attack on the external fire, it resulted in 55 deaths. The major question is why the passengers did not get off the aircraft sufficiently quickly.”
One of the most graphic examples of crowd passivity in recent times occurred in New York’s Twin Towers after the hijacked planes hit them on 9/11. You’d have thought those who survived the initial impact would have headed for the nearest exit pretty quickly. Most did the opposite: they prevaricated. Those who eventually got out waited six minutes on average before moving to the stairs, and some hung around for half an hour. Unprepared for what was happening to them, they either carried on as normal or hung around to see what would happen, waiting for others to move first. One study found that half of those who survived delayed before trying to escape, making phone calls, tidying things into drawers, locking their office door, going to the toilet, completing emails, shutting down their computer, changing their shoes.
The prevailing psychological explanation for these kinds of behaviours – passivity, mental paralysis or simply carrying on as normal in the face of a crisis – is that they are caused by a failure to adapt to a sudden change in the environment. Survival involves goal-directed behaviour: you feel hungry, you look for food; you feel isolated, you seek companionship. Normally, this is straightforward (we know how to find food or companions). But in a new, unfamiliar environment, particularly a stressful one such as a sinking ship or a burning aircraft, establishing survival goals – where the exit is and how to get to it – requires a lot more conscious effort.
“In emergencies, quite often events are happening faster than you can process them.” The situation outruns our capacity to think our way out of it. “Being in a situation where your life is in danger increases your emotional arousal, and high arousal causes people to limit the number of alternatives they consider. That can be bad when trying to determine a course of action, since you may never consider the option most likely to result in escaping safely.”
This explains why in emergencies people often fail to do things that under normal circumstances would seem obvious. So the only reliable way to shortcut this kind of impaired thinking, most survival experts agree, is by preparing for an emergency in advance. “Practice makes actions automatic, without [the need for] detailed thinking.” This means making a mental note of the fire exits when you go to the cinema (and imagining yourself using them), reading the evacuation guidance on the back of the door when you stay in a hotel, and always listening to aircraft safety briefings however frequent a flyer you are.
No matter how well-primed you are, one aspect of emergency situations will always be out of our control: how those around us behave. Here, too, the scientific understanding is at odds with common wisdom or what we are likely to read in the media. Commentators often highlight the supposed stupidity or madness of crowds during disasters – a stampede of pilgrims, the crush of a football crowd, the blind scramble for the exits in a burning nightclub. In reality, this is rarely what happens.
Research shows that in most scenarios, groups of people are more likely to help each other than hinder. “In emergencies, the norm is cooperation. Selfish behaviour is very mild and tends to be policed by the crowd rather than spreading.”
People’s tendency to cooperate during emergencies increases the chances of survival for everyone. “Individually, the best thing tactically is to go along with the group interest. In situations where everyone acts individually, which are very rare, that actually decreases effective group evacuation.” Still, some emergencies can be so disorientating that cooperation may be beyond some people.
The chances are you will never find yourself in a disaster situation. But it’s a good idea to imagine that you will: to be aware that there are threats out there, and that you can prepare for them, without sliding into paranoia. “All you have to do is ask yourself one simple question. If something happens, what is my first response? Once you can answer that, everything else will fall into place. It’s that simple.”


No current tropical storms.


Winter-weary New Englanders could get pummeled by yet another significant snow by the weekend, although model guidance so far has been inconsistent.

What Do the Latest Climate Assessments Tell Us about Nor’easters? - An ever-lengthening procession of winter storms has marched across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast over the last few years. Even their names have grown more prolific and colorful, from Snowmaggedon of January 2010 to this week’s Blizzard of 2015, also known as Winter Storm Juno. Do these monikers imply the storms themselves are getting more fierce?
The naming trend can be explained largely by the demands of social media. However, recent overviews of national and global climate indicate that, as a whole, the most intense rainstorms and snowstorms in the Northeast U.S. are growing even more intense. Our understanding of a warmer climate with wetter extremes arises from both observations of past trends and model-based projections of future climate. It’s also supported by basic physics: in a warmer global environment, more water vapor evaporates from oceans and lakes, where it can be steered into rain- and snow-producing storms.
Many parts of the world are reporting more frequent and intense bouts of extreme precipitation over the last few decades, though a few areas (such as western Asia and southern Australia) are bucking the trend. The IPCC found that “evidence is most compelling for increases in heavy precipitation in North America, Central America and Europe.”
The report also confirms earlier findings that the Northern Hemisphere jet stream continues a long-term poleward migration. That trend is widely expected to continue in the next several decades, though not all studies agree.
Given the potential for disaster inherent in the worst winter storms, even a 13% increase in their frequency could pack a notable punch. However, there is sharp variability from decade to decade in the frequency of such extreme snowstorms, something that should come as no surprise to any longtime weather observer. Which brings us back to the last decade and its bumper crop of Northeastern storms. At New York City’s Central Park, five of the 10 biggest storm-total snowfalls on record have occurred since 2000; in Boston, it’s four of the top 10, and in Washington, three of the top 10.
This 21st-century onslaught could be related to the longer-term boost provided to extreme rains and snows by a warming planet, as well as a shorter-term jump in the frequency of Northeast storms related to cycles in global and regional climate. In addition, a growing amount of research suggests that Arctic amplification and sea-ice loss could be influencing jet-stream behavior and fostering outbreaks of cold and snow in North America and Eurasia. Variations in snow-measuring practice over time may also play a role in local trends and records, although these can generally be factored out of broader-scale studies.
To what extent was the Blizzard of 2015 a product of climate change? All storms are now unfolding in a warmer, moister global climate. Studies have shown that events such as the deadly European heat wave of 2003 and Russian heat wave of 2010 became considerably more likely in a greenhouse-warmed climate.


Atmospheric River Heads for California - Relief is on the way for drought-stricken parts of the U.S. West later this week, as an intense atmospheric river (AR) takes aim. This ribbon of deep moisture and strong wind will move onshore by Thursday night, kicking off a multiday series of downpours from roughly the northern half of California into the Pacific Northwest.
The impending AR will likely be the most intensely observed in weather history, thanks to an armada of instruments deployed across California and the Northeast Pacific for a two-month interagency study. The project’s goals are to improve prediction of ARs affecting California and to assess the importance of aerosols (airborne particles) in shaping rainfall patterns across the region.
It’s been estimated that 25 - 50% of California’s water supply is derived from AR events. As research intensified on ARs in the 1990s, scientists recognized that the rain-bearing moisture channel often called the “pineapple express” - extending from Hawaii to California - was just one example of a global phenomenon. More than 90% of all the water vapor that flows into midlatitudes from the tropics is channeled by ARs, which span just 10% of the latitudinal band at 35°N.
When a midlatitude storm draws in moisture from an emerging AR, the moisture becomes further concentrated as winds converge just ahead of the associated cold front. ARs can extend more than 1000 miles long but average only about 200 - 400 miles wide. Along with the the classic “pineapple express” pattern, ARs can take on a variety of other shapes and trajectories, which adds complexity to predicting how they’ll behave.
Computer forecast models can now spot many ARs five or more days before they threaten the U.S. West Coast, but there are often big uncertainties among models in the strength, position, and timing of each AR event. Many of the question marks arise simply because of the limited data available from the Pacific Ocean.
Light rain is already pushing into western Oregon and Washington today ahead of the core AR event. The newly upgraded GFS model predcts more than 5” of rain to the north part of the Bay Area through the weekend, with the potential for 5” – 10” or more and very strong winds in and near the coastal range through far northern California and southwest Oregon. More than 10” of liquid equivalent could also over mountainous parts of Washington. Hefty precipitation totals are also expected along the central and northern Sierra Nevada in California, with available water vapor CLOSE TO RECORD-HIGH AMOUNTS for February.
Unfortunately for the snowpack, temperatures through the weekend will be warm enough to keep most of the bounty in the form of rain below 7000 - 8000 feet, with a more general lowering of snow levels only toward the end of the multiday bout of storminess.


CoreLogic has released its annual Natural Hazard Risk Summary Analysis detailing the most significant natural disasters of 2014 and providing several projections for 2015. The report provides a look at the year's hurricanes, floods, hailstorms, tornadoes, wildfires, sinkholes, earthquakes, tropical cyclones and typhoon events in the U.S., as well as an international snapshot of the hazard events that imposed significant damage across the globe.
Among the key findings:
The 2014 hurricane season marked the second consecutive year of low tropical storm and hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean. With only eight named North Atlantic storms, six formed into hurricanes and just two of the six developed into a major hurricane (defined as developing into a Category 3 or larger).
The amount of damage attributed to flooding in 2014 is approximately $4.2 billion in losses for the year, which is below the long-term historical average of $5.3 billion annually.
This year is on track to have the fewest number of tornadoes recorded in the past decade with just 720 tornadoes verified through August and an additional 128 storm reports filed through November.
Overall hail fall across the U.S. this year covered the greatest geographical area of any year since at least 2006. According to hail verification technology, 934,948 square miles, or 18.6 percent of the continental United States, were impacted by hail of 0.75 inches or greater.
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