Natural disasters

  • NY to buy, demolish beachfront homes, make way for storm buffers

    New York governor Andrew Cuomo plans to use $400 million in federal funding to buy beachfront homes as part of a broader plan to reshape the New York coastline so the state is better prepared for sea level rise, surges, and storms. The plan is to raze the purchased homes and leave to shore front vacant. Some properties would be turned into dunes, wetlands, or other natural buffers. Other parcels could be combined and turned into public parkland.

  • Making buildings more tsunamis-resilient

    Often in disasters such as tsunamis, people escape the on-rushing wall of water by climbing to higher ground, called vertical evacuation. As people race to the third or fourth floor of a building, however, how do they know whether the building will hold up? Walls of water often carry with them cars, trucks, and 60,000-pound fully loaded cargo containers, transforming them into projectiles which slam into buildings with tremendous force. Most structural systems are designed to defy gravity, not a side kick from a shipping container. Engineers are now studying the impact of tsunami-carried debris in order to make buildings and other structures more disaster-resilient.

  • Climate change threatens public health, safety, economy along U.S. coasts

    A new technical study from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reports that the effects of climate change will continue to threaten the health and vitality of U.S. coastal communities’ social, economic, and natural systems. All U.S. coasts are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as sea-level rise, erosion, storms, and flooding, especially in the more populated low-lying parts of the U.S. coast along the Gulf of Mexico, Mid-Atlantic, northern Alaska, Hawaii, and island territories. The report says that the financial risks associated with both private and public hazard insurance are expected to increase dramatically.

  • Osaka Basin quake map identifies high-rise buildings at risk

    The Osaka Basin, Japan is home to many high-rise buildings which sit atop its thick soft sediments, vulnerable to long-period strong ground motions that last minutes. A new map created by Japanese researchers is intends to guide engineers and city planners in new construction and identifies existing buildings with the potential of resonance vibration.

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  • Extreme rainfall linked to global warming

    A worldwide review of global rainfall data has found that the intensity of the most extreme rainfall events is increasing across the globe as temperatures rise. In the most comprehensive review of changes to extreme rainfall ever undertaken, researchers evaluated the association between extreme rainfall and atmospheric temperatures at more than 8,000 weather gauging stations around the world.

  • The historical probability of drought

    Droughts can severely limit crop growth, causing yearly losses of around $8 billion in the United States. It may be possible, however, to minimize those losses if farmers can synchronize the growth of crops with periods of time when drought is less likely to occur. Researchers are working to create a reliable “calendar” of seasonal drought patterns that could help farmers optimize crop production by avoiding days prone to drought.

  • “Live burns” to benefit research and firefighter training

    See video

    Fire researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and colleagues from fire service organizations will turn abandoned wood-frame, single-family houses near the site of an old Spartanburg, South Carolina, textile mill into proving and training grounds for new science-driven fire-fighting techniques. The objective of the study is to improve firefighter safety and effectiveness.

  • Better predictions of Asian summer monsoons, tropical storms

    The amount of rainfall and number of tropical storms during the summer monsoon season greatly impact the agriculture, economy, and people in Asia. Though meteorologists and climate scientists have worked for years to develop helpful prediction systems, seasonal predictions of these two types of weather phenomena are still poor. Scientists have now made a promising breakthrough for predicting in spring both the summer monsoon rainfall over East Asia and the number of tropical storms affecting East Asian coastal areas.

  • House approves $50.7 billion Sandy relief bill

    The House Tuesday night approved, by a vote of 241 to 180, the $50.7 billion in a Sandy relief package, the second installment of a $60.4 billion package requested by the White House and approved by the Senate (last week the House approved the $9.7 million flood-insurance part of the package). Effort by conservative members of the House to offset a part of the bill’s cost with across-the-board federal budget cuts failed on a 258-162 vote.

  • Drought, heat turn hundreds of U.S. counties into disaster areas

    The U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) last week said that drought conditions and heat necessitated designating 597 counties in fourteen states as primary natural disaster areas. The affected counties have suffered severe drought for eight consecutive weeks, which qualified them for the automatic designation. 2012 had been the hottest year on record for the continental United States: the year’s average temperature of 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit across the Lower 48, which was more than 3.2 degrees warmer than the average for the twentieth century.

  • Conquering cholera in Haiti without vaccinating most people

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been skeptical about the effectiveness of vaccination against cholera in Haiti; it has instead emphasized cleaning up the water supply and improving sanitation as the best ways to check the spread of the disease; a new study suggests that vaccination would be effective, and that cholera could be contained in Haiti by vaccinating less than half the population

  • Shoring up Long Island’s natural shore defenses against future storms

    Sand and other coarse-grained sediments are vital to the naturally occurring barrier systems which dissipate storm surges, protect coastal residences, and shelter biologically diverse estuaries and ecosystems; a team of researchers is conducting marine geophysical surveys of the seafloor and shallow subsurface to assess the health of the offshore barrier system which protects the New York Harbor and southwestern Long Island region against damage from future storms

  • Before the deluge: improving flood forecasting

    Summer 2012 was the third consecutive summer in which Pakistan has endured catastrophic floods; thirty million people were affected in 2010 and 2011; the summer 2012 floods affected 4.7 million more, killed nearly 500 people, and led to the evacuation of 350,000; Pakistan, stubbornly refusing to accept external assistance in flood forecasting, is not able to predict and prepare for natural disasters on its own

  • Appearances deceive: supposedly “stable” zone make earthquakes even more powerful

    In an earthquake, ground motion is the result of waves emitted when the two sides of a fault move — or slip — rapidly past each other, with an average relative speed of about three feet per second. Not all fault segments move so quickly, however; new earthquake fault models show that “stable” zones may contribute to the generation of massive earthquakes

  • Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) calls Sen. Harry Reid an "idiot” over Katrina comment

    Last week, during a floor debate in the Senate on the $9.7 billion portion of the Sandy relief measure, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who supported the measure, said: “The people of New Orleans and that area, they were hurt, but nothing in comparison to what happened to the people in New York and New Jersey”; in response, Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana) said: “Sadly, Harry Reid has again revealed himself to be an idiot”