Natural disasters

  • Should I stay or should I go: timing affects hurricane evacuation decisions

    When a hurricane is gathering strength offshore, people in its possible line of fire still need to decide whether or not to evacuate to safer ground. Emergency managers are charged with ensuring the safety of the population. “Prepare for the worst” is probably a good philosophy in most circumstances, but not in the case of evacuation for a hurricane many days away, when the cost of mobilizing is high and the probability of it being needed is very low. The government and media also grapple with not wanting to be unnecessarily alarmist. The correct philosophy is “know what the worst case could be and be prepared to face it if it comes to pass.” When an evacuation order is issued, it’s usually in a very compressed time frame — but that’s ok as long as people are prepared. If people plan three to five days ahead, knowing that there is a small but real chance they will be asked to evacuate and a small but real chance of death if they do not, they can be ready when the definitive order comes in.

  • App offers St. Petersburg residents information on flood levels, storm surges

    Pinellas County, Florida, will unveil a new Storm Surge Protector computer application which would provide residents of St. Petersburg with realistic views of potential flood levels as the 2015 hurricane season approaches. The app will allow people to enter any Pinellas County address and see the property’s evacuation zone and get an animated view of the structure and the water levels to expect in the area under a range of hurricane categories.

  • California’s agriculture feels pain of harsh drought

    The California drought is expected to be worse for the state’s agricultural economy this year because of reduced water availability, according to a new study. Farmers will have 2.7 million acre-feet less surface water than they would in a normal water year — about a 33 percent loss of water supply, on average. Reduced availability of water will cause farmers to fallow roughly 560,000 acres, or 6 to 7 percent of California’s average annual irrigated cropland. The drought is estimated to cause direct costs of $1.8 billion — about 4 percent of California’s $45 billion agricultural economy. When the spillover effect of agriculture on the state’s other economic sectors is calculated, the total cost of this year’s drought on California’s economy is $2.7 billion and the loss of about 18,600 full- and part-time jobs.

  • Forest managers hampered in efforts to control costly wildfires by using prescribed burns

    Fighting wildfires is costly. The U.S. government now spends about $2 billion a year just to stop them, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. This is up from $239 million in 1985. Forest managers would prefer to use prescribed burns every few years to help prevent costly wildfires and rebuild unhealthy ecosystems, but hurdles like staffing, budget, liability, and new development hinder them.

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  • Summer tropical storms do not alleviate drought conditions

    Popular opinion says that tropical storms and hurricanes that make landfall mitigate droughts in the southeastern United States. This simply is not true, according to researchers. According to a NOAA report, 37.4 percent of the contiguous United States was experiencing moderate drought at the end of April – but “The perception that land-falling tropical cyclones serve to replenish the terrestrial water sources in many of the small watersheds in the southeastern U.S. seems to be a myth,” says one of the researchers.

  • Climate change, a factor in Texas floods, largely ignored

    Climate change is taking a toll on Texas, and the devastating floods that have killed at least fifteen people and left twelve others missing across the state are some of the best evidence yet of that phenomenon, state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said in an interview last Wednesday. “We have observed an increase of heavy rain events, at least in the South-Central United States, including Texas,” said Nielsen-Gammon, who was appointed by former Gov. George W. Bush in 2000. “And it’s consistent with what we would expect from climate change.” Some Republican state legislators who had opposed including climate change forecasts in state agencies’ planning work, say they are rethinking their position. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) said that after last week’s flooding, he is taking the need for planning for extreme weather seriously. “I’ll certainly have it on my radar,” Hunter said. “When you see these strange weather patterns, it’s important to keep all of these things in mind.”

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  • Winners and losers in California’s water crisis

    A recent article highlights the widening gap of inequality between the wealthy and the poor of California, specifically in relation to the State’s current drought. The authors discuss what has caused these inequalities to expand — the outdated and unsupervised water regulations still currently used, combined with decentralized local control means using and sourcing water comes down to the simple matter of what people can and cannot afford.

  • Debate in North Carolina over sea-level rise continues

    Climate change skeptics in the North Carolina legislature revised the forecast horizon of the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission (CRC), a panel of scientific and engineering experts set up by the state government to advised state agencies on coastal issues, from ninety years to thirty years. Infrastructure experts said limiting forecasts to thirty years does not make sense because large infrastructure projects are designed to last at least two or three times that, and hence must take into account conditions which will likely prevail well into the future. Local communities in the state say that since, in their own infrastructure planning, they are not bound by arbitrary limits imposed on state agencies by the legislature, they take a longer view of emerging coastal hazards – and plan accordingly.

  • QuakeAlert app to be tested by USGS, CalTech

    Santa Monica, California-based Early Warning Labs says that a new technology it developed in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) can alert users before shaking strikes their location. The app, called QuakeAlert, will alert users with a countdown to when shaking will strike their exact location and tell the user how severe the intensity of the shaking is expected to be in their location. The app will be available for free once USGS approves the technology.

  • Calaveras-Hayward fault link means potentially much more powerful quakes

    Seismologists have proven that the Hayward Fault is essentially a branch of the Calaveras Fault that runs east of San Jose, which means that both could rupture together, resulting in a significantly more destructive earthquake than previously thought. “The maximum earthquake on a fault is proportional to its length, so by having the two directly connected, we can have a rupture propagating across from one to the other, making a larger quake,” said one researcher. “People have been looking for evidence of this for a long time, but only now do we have the data to prove it.”

  • Global climate on verge of multi-decadal change

    A new study suggests that the global climate is on the verge of broad-scale change that could last for a number of decades. The change to the new set of climatic conditions is associated with a cooling of the Atlantic, and is likely to bring drier summers in Britain and Ireland, accelerated sea-level rise along the northeast coast of the United States, and drought in the developing countries of the Sahel region.

  • Warming amplifying adverse effects of California’s historic drought

    Although record low precipitation has been the main driver of one of the worst droughts in California history, abnormally high temperatures have also played an important role in, according to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey and university partners. Experiments with a hydrologic model for the period October 2013-September 2014 showed that if the air temperatures had been cooler, similar to the 1916-2012 average, there would have been an 86 percent chance that the winter snowpack would have been greater, the spring-summer runoff higher, and the spring-summer soil moisture deficits smaller.

  • Assessing climate change vulnerability in Georgia

    New research from the University of Georgia assesses the communities in the state most vulnerable to changes in temperature and precipitation. The study examines not only the sensitivity and susceptibility of populations that are vulnerable to flooding along the coast, but also the social vulnerability of inland populations in Georgia. The research presents a vulnerability assessment of Georgia based on county-level statistics from 1975 to 2012.

  • Himalayas glaciers volume to decline dramatically, affecting region’s water supply

    Glaciers in High Mountain Asia, a region that includes the Himalayas, contain the largest volume of ice outside the polar regions. If greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, glaciers in the Everest region of the Himalayas could experience dramatic change in the decades to come – and may decline by between 70 percent and 99 percent by 2100. Changes in glacier volume can impact the availability of water, with consequences for agriculture and hydropower generation. While increased glacier melt initially increases water flows, ongoing retreat leads to reduced meltwater from the glaciers during the warmer months. “The signal of future glacier change in the region is clear: continued and possibly accelerated mass loss from glaciers is likely given the projected increase in temperatures,” says a researcher.

  • Exposure to media coverage of terrorist acts, disasters may cause long-term negative health effects

    The city of Boston endured one of the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in April of 2013, when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. While emergency workers responded to the chaos and law enforcement agencies began a manhunt for the perpetrators, Americans fixed their attention to television screens, Internet news sites and forums, and Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. In doing so, some of those people may have been raising their acute stress levels which, in some cases, have been linked with long-term negative health effects. For some individuals, intense exposure to the Boston Marathon bombing through media coverage could be associated with more stress symptoms than those who had direct exposure to the attack.