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This has been an issue of mine in almost every single hurricane. Meterologists, both national and local, talk repeatedly and often about "storm surge" and flooding in "low lying areas" and yet somehow masses of people who are potentially in harm's way are unable to translate the information as it relates to their own current risks.

I think a large part of this problem is that the storm surge maps we are used to looking at correlate storm surge to the category of hurricane so that people who see their neighborhood with colormapping that says they are good up to a category 3 hear about something like Sandy and they think "oh, we're good" and this is just a Category 1 or it's not even technically a hurricane, etc. and then they stay home, confident in their ability to ride out a storm.

This kind of thinking about storm surge doesn't take into account a giant storm like Sandy where the duration of the storm and the length of time spent in pushing water had as large if not larger overall inpact than just the windspeed - plus people were subjected to days of multiple high tides and flooding and not just the single cycle which typically happens when a hurrican blows through quickly with a smaller radius and then shreds apart.

When the local meteorologist tells us that the storm surge will be 8 feet above average, most people don't have the vestiage of a clue of what he/she is telling them. If they have not flooded before, they bank on this fact protecting them in the future.

In my opinion, everyone should know the basic elevation of their home. Then, find an interactive storm surge map which will allow you to click on various levels until you find the level where your home is at risk. Write down the elevation and the dangerous storm surge height for yourself and put it somewhere accessible. The next time a meteroologist tells you that there will be a 10 foot storm surge, you might pay attention and really be able to make an informed decision whether you are at risk or not and whether you should evacuate or not.

Every single time we have a hurricane, I email my local meteorologists and plead with them to NAME areas that are at risk in the CURRENT storm. Another issue I have is that many of my local meteorologists say things like "if you didn't flood in Irene, you are probably ok" and they leave it at that which completely eliminates any new arrivals in the viewing area who are now expected to know the flooding history of their new town based on a past hurricane when they weren't even residents.

It sounds to me that even someone like Mayor Bloomberg didn't have a handle on exactly which areas were at risk during Sandy and which ones should have been given evacuation orders even if they weren't in Zone A. And the same with New Jersey. I believe if most people are given easily understandable warnings about the probabilty of them flooding, as opposed to opaque meteorlogical jargon about storm surge, we will have better outcomes in the future and possibly save lives.

We could have something as simple as an addition on street signs that could say in small letters "elevation 17ft above sea level" or whatever. Just my opinion and my thoughts about this.

Originally posted to Phoebe Loosinhouse on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 11:18 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (118+ / 0-)

    “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

    by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 11:18:19 AM PDT

  •  I agree, Phoebe (24+ / 0-)

    A lot of people think a storm surge is like one big wave that comes in and goes out again in a matter of minutes (same thinking goes with a tsunami), not realizing it's basically the ocean itself that is rising up.
    Then, when it's on top of a full moon high tide, you really have problems.
    I really like the idea of an interactive storm surge map, but there are maps available that show inundation levels, depending on the surge:

    Here are maps for Florida (warning, clicking on a map will start download- HUGE FILES, one county was 20MB!) that are very cool too.

    “We are not a nation that says ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says ‘out of many, we are one.’” -Barack Obama

    by skohayes on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 11:36:11 AM PDT

  •  clearly a lot is wrong (27+ / 0-)

    with how we describe the effects of natural disasters which we don't even understand after the fact, never mind before the fact.

    your suggestions might help, but by themselves they would certainly not be enough.

    knowing your elevation is key, but areas like Little River and Moonachie had no way of knowing their natural levees would be breached and no where to go even if they knew.

    npr had a story yesterday about one scientist who had modeled the storm on nyc subway system and whose predictions were nearly perfect.  the talk he gave to officials a couple of years ago was met with stony silence because they have no idea how to prepare for such a catastrophe.

    little to no infrastructure spending leads to paralysis when faced with a worse case scenario.

    my guess is that nyc and nj are going to hit again and again before they even consider massive re-engineering.  

    Donate to Occupy Wall Street here:

    by BlueDragon on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 11:39:14 AM PDT

    •  Idea? Or funding? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      You build a giant seawall like the Netherlands has.  The problem is that it's expensive and nobody wants to pay for it.  

      "Politics should be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage." -- Lucille Ball

      by Yamaneko2 on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 07:11:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  There are a lot of places, (14+ / 0-)

    both coastal and in river valleys, where we just shouldn't build at all.  With sea level rising (albeit slowly) and "100 year storms" becoming "10 year normal" we need to seriously reconsider rebuilding (many coastal areas should not) and instituting protective measures where there is too much value in existing structures to abandon them.

    I can't work up too much sympathy for people who built "new" on coastal barrier islands in the last decade or two . . .

    Fake Left, Drive Right . . . not my idea of a Democrat . . .

    by Deward Hastings on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 11:46:32 AM PDT

    •  @ least somebody's saying this about NYC, (16+ / 0-)

      instead of NOLa.


      People build where they want to live.

      They often aren't aware that there's a reason for, say, the Galveston seawall and the big thick timbers or concrete piers under the houses on e.g. Bolivar Peninsula. You need that stuff once in a lifetime, maybe.

      But that once, you need it bad.
      Don't do without it to cheap out, or else be prepared to lose everything.

      LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

      by BlackSheep1 on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 12:17:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, NYC floods how often? (6+ / 0-)

        I agree with Deward Hastings, but I wasn't thinking about NYC (or even NOLA). I was thinking about places like Scituate, MA, which has a coastal neighborhood that floods, catastrophically, about every three years. Some people have rebuilt multiple times--but they keep rebuilding. They should condemn the whole place.

        We get big storm surges a lot here in MA. We don't just get them from hurricanes, we get them from strong nor'easters. And it's always the same places that flood out.

        "Maybe: it's a vicious little word that could slay me"--Sara Bareilles

        by ChurchofBruce on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 07:42:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  NYC will flood more often until the cycle (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          doingbusinessas, Chi, hubcap

          shifts back toward growing ice at the poles and lowering seas.

          That's just a fact.

          LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

          by BlackSheep1 on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 10:56:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The Midwest will flood more, as will the PNW. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            The west will burn more -- the whole west, not just Malibu Canyon or here and there in national forests. We'll see more deadly tornadoes across the midwest and south.

            Everyone will point at each other and say "well THEY shouldn't rebuild there."

            It's not just hurricane states. It's all of us.

            I remember when folks used to think that living in earthquake-prone California (or WA or AK) was the riskiest thing you possibly do.

            It's a systemic problem. Some places may be safer.. But no place is safe from the effects.

            Romney vs Obama, Flat-earthers vs people who believe in science: this IS a climate change election. Sandy was just a strong reminder of the risk of doing nothing. For example, out here in CA, we're running Dem José Hernandez --a former astronaut -- vs the Republican incumbent  who signed the No Climate Tax Pledge.

            Which is more likely to start tackling climate change?

            The clock is running out, and despite what happens tonight at 2:00am, it's very hard to actually roll back the clock on climate change.

            © grover

            So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

            by grover on Sun Nov 04, 2012 at 01:35:03 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  There has been a push (14+ / 0-)

    to do away with the Saffir-Simpson scale and replace it with something that ranks winds and surge separately.

    I think that could do a lot of good and might have helped convince some that stayed when they should have gone.

  •  Tides and surge (16+ / 0-)

    Tides are critical with respect to surge. Sandy's surge field was large, and it arrived and was sustained at a time of the month/year of some of the highest astronomical tides.  October and November is when hurricanes often hit the eastern seaboard and now it appears that the Greenland high, which may be related to greatly Arctic ice cover, might coincide with that time window.  And the Greenland high was responsible for punting Sandy to the west and into New Jersey and New York - a very unusual hard-left turn.

    Only time will tell if Sandy was a fluke or a harbinger of disasters to come, but there is evidence that conditions are coming into existence that will favor the generation of more, and more frequent weather events of this type.  

    There have been bigger, more deadly hurricanes that have hit the eastern seaboard and New England in the past, but they occurred before modern high-tech observation and monitoring methods were available.  Therefore we don't know much about the climactic environment during those events, and whether they were truly similar to Sandy.

    Unfortunately, climate is a long term set of conditions, and individual events cannot be directly attributed to longer-term climate change.  However, if we start having 50, 100 or 500 year events every few years, that will be pretty good evidence that climate change models are correct, and indeed, big changes are occurring.

    “There is a cult of ignorance in the U.S...anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

    by DaveVH on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 11:56:37 AM PDT

    •  People also don't understand the difference... (17+ / 0-)

      ...between storm surge and wave height.  Wave height is ON TOP of storm surge. So a surge of 8 ft. with waves of 15 ft reaching shore adds to 23 ft.

      Wave heights are primarily correlated to wind. Surge is primarily a function of the size of the fetch (i.e., the area of ocean over which the strong wind is blowing, which also impacts wave height) and barometric pressure.  Sandy had both:

      1. The largest wind field of any storm on record in the North Atlantic (over 1,000 miles across of tropical storm-force winds) AND
      2. The lowest barometric pressure on record of any storm north of Cape Hatteras. Sandy's barometric pressure was on a par with the average Category 3 hurricane. Lower barometric pressure means that the ocean surface is literally "sucked"* into the air near the center of the storm.

      All this meant that Sandy's ocean impacts were always going to be much, much more severe than the average Cat 1 hurricane. Add in the lunar high tide and the "funnel" effect of the geography, and it was the nightmare so many have feared for a long time.

      * I know, it's not really "sucked" -- it's the heavier atmosphere as you move away from the center pushing down on the ocean surface and therefore the surface pushing up at the point of least resistance, near the "eye".

      A PALINDROME: Slip-up set in Utah. Trail, no? M. Romney -- odd! Elder an AMC man, a Red-led doyen. Mormon liar that unites pupils?

      by Obama Amabo on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 01:03:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wind drives wave height. North Shore Hawaii (7+ / 0-)

        gets those enormous 40-foot and higher waves when Pacific storms form up over 1,000 miles and more.

        Wind Velocity TIMES Distance INCREASES Wave Height

        There's formulas for the relationship. Here is a part of what happened to the southern side of Long Island:

        Says "Category 3" and with the 1,000 mile wind driver behind those wave action engines, it's about right for what happened.

        There's no way on earth to build wood houses against 20-foot storm waves.

        A concrete "house" built up 15-feet on stilts with throw-away "furniture" is the engineering fantasy solution. There is one of those on the Mississippi coast.

        Surge inundates.

        Wave action destroys.

        We got inundated part-way. But back side so no wave action. We also had power back before dawn -- the milk I put in the freezer to save it... froze.

        •  I think I said that. Not sure if you were... (4+ / 0-)

          ...correcting or elaborating.

          "Wave heights are primarily correlated to wind."
          If the latter, thanks. And I agree with everything you said.

          A PALINDROME: Slip-up set in Utah. Trail, no? M. Romney -- odd! Elder an AMC man, a Red-led doyen. Mormon liar that unites pupils?

          by Obama Amabo on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 05:02:24 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Staten Island is Kings County. (3+ / 0-)

          Wasted-red on both sides on the map.

          Wind driven waves annihilated the eastern exposed shores. We're amazed so few people were killed.

          Sandy didn't do New York Harbor all red. Small favors.

        •  This is something I mention all the time (8+ / 0-)

          in private conversations - the world is changing and we are making little effort to change with it. The Dutch are doing some amazing things with houses that are built on hydraulic lifts which can be raised during flood threats.

          I have long had a personal fantasy about a coastal community of concrete igloos built on hydraulic lifts that were survivable in both high winds and high waters, with some kind of individual self-contained energy sources like wind and solar and battery.

          But the houses we build today look pretty much like the houses that were built during the American Revolution, except for the "open concept" and high ceilings now popular.

          I love to go on architectural websites that have exciting new prototypical designs and models of what housing could be like in the future, but I keep wondering , when?

          “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

          by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 05:18:34 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Well, cost is the big problem. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            And you lose your cellar.

            And it wouldn't work in an area with wave action, anyway.

            Big hurricanes don't give a damn what you plan or build. We're up as far as it can get, reasonably, and we still have the garage under a yard of water.

            •  Places with high water tables don't have cellers (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              bontemps2012, grover

              anyway. When I lived in New England I had a cellar and was distressed to find them non-exsistent here but I have to say, I really don't miss it at all.Now I see them as just one more place to accumulate the leftover detritus of your life.

              “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

              by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 12:43:32 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Definitely no cellars here (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                in north east Florida. I grew up with a cellar in Duchess County, N,Y. and still miss the seeing the food preserved in Mason jars and the fresh water from the well.

              •  No cellars out here in earthquake country. (0+ / 0-)

                In WA  and CA, we  also tend to have clay soil that dries and expands in weather, so we need foundations that are pretty flexible.

                The most you ever see is a daylight basement, but that's because the house is set on a tall foundation.

                Cellars are not necessary.

                © grover

                So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

                by grover on Sun Nov 04, 2012 at 01:45:09 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

      •  Seiche (5+ / 0-)

        is a term used on the Great Lakes to describe a push of water as a high pressure area migrates over one end of a Lake and the relatively low (lower) pressure are at the opposite end allows the water to rise.

        These rare events have killed people as they lazily fish out on a jetty extending out into a Lake, and suddenly the water rises as if the jetty is sinking.

        The difference in pressure to cause the surge associated with a hurricane eye approaching land, or a seiche event on the Lakes is small. But, the cumulative area representing the pressure differential adds up to tons and tons of pressure.

        Note that the slight difference between the top of an airfoil and the bottom is what creates lift across a wing of an aircraft. Modern jets weigh tons and tons... flying on minimal differences in pressure created.

        What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness, Anger, discontent and drooping hopes... Life is too strong for you-- It takes life to love Life

        by Nebraska68847Dem on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 06:26:32 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Storm Surge primarily a function of slope... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DaveVH, ozsea1, Phoebe Loosinhouse

        ...of the seabed.  A storm headed east toward the Florida west coast will generate very much more surge than the identical storm headed west toward the Florida east coast.  The difference is solely attributable to the slope of the nearby seabed.  Florida west coast has the Florida Shelf slope, Florida east coast has steeply sloped bathymetry.

        There is no free lunch, though.  Shallow sloping shorelines break the waves farther offshore than do steeply sloping shorelines.  The waves that ride on top of the surge are physically destructive to structures; the surge is what drowns people.

        •  Seabed shape, big wave surfing, and tsunamis... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bumbi, Phoebe Loosinhouse

          Although I am not a surfer, I used to windsurf on San Francisco Bay, and routinely sail out under the Golden Gate Bridge and back.  Since childhood, I have always been fascinated and thrilled by the power of nature.

          San Mateo's "Mavericks" and Hawaii's "Peahi" (often called "Jaws") are big wave surfing sites where the bottom slope/topography "jacks up" the swells into giant surfable waves.  There are documentaries of the unique seabed configurations that combine with particular swell conditions to create these giant surfing waves.

          I retired to Panama to live as an expat in the mountains not far from the border of Costa Rica.  As I learn about my new home country, I discovered that the differences between tidal ranges on the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the country are HUGE.  The Caribbean tides range from 2-3 feet, but the Pacific Tides near Panama city range up to 18 feet!!  A look at a map of Panama shows that the Pacific side between the Azuero Peninsula through Panama City and the Darien to the border with Columbia forms a giant "bowl."  Combine that with the shallow slope of the bottom and you get large tidal ranges.  (Fortunately, Panama is too close to the equator for hurricanes and cyclones to hit - although the waters off Panama and Costa Rica are cyclogenesis regions - places where hurricanes and cyclones are born.)  

          It is easy to find videos on the internet of the 2004 Christmas tsunami in SE Asia and the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan.  The videos show varied interaction of the tsunami with the shore.  Due to differences in shoreline contour and seafloor shape, the tsunami manifested differently in various locations.  in some places, giant waves crashed at the beach or offshore, and then washed ashore, and in other places the ocean simply rose higher and higher, pouring further and further inland.  Since the Tsunamis occurred during benign weather, and often with sunny, clear skies, they were easy to document with video, which many people did - both amateur and professionals.  The many videos of these two events are fascinating - and very sad because of the many lives lost and the huge destruction.

          The videos that bring to mind global warming/climate change for me are the ones showing simply a rapid rise of sea level.  These scenes are like a faster version of hurricane and "superstorm" tidal surges, but without the huge waves on top of the surge.  

          The sea is a cruel master, bringing great joy for recreation, an incredible bounty of food, a wonderful medium for transportation, but also great destruction when riled up.  I agree with many people that sea  level rise and storm surges coupled with huge waves are often overlooked for their potential to cause great damage with increasing frequency as global warming continues.  The large size of some of the recent Category 1 and 2 hurricanes - and even tropical storms -  coupled with the long duration high storm surges is not documented in the scientific record as far as I know, but I plan to submit that question to Christopher Burt, the weather historian at Weather Underground.

          If you're interested in ongoing discussions of global warming and climate change, please join us at Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog at the Weather Underground website where I post as "Xulonn."

          “There is a cult of ignorance in the U.S...anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

          by DaveVH on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 10:08:49 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That's a kind invitation (0+ / 0-)

            I'm not sure what I can contribute.  I believe the climate evidence, and I believe the climate models and, more importantly, the climate modelers.  Let me rummage on Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog.  I know that Dr. Jeff believes the evidence, too.  Somewhere in the Wunderground archives there are earlier comments by me on storm surge.  I had extensive post-Katrina correspondence with a then-blogger.

  •  your suggestion of street signs with posted (23+ / 0-)

    elevation are brilliant - and a stark reminder to residents of potential danger!

  •  There are great maps on the Internet (5+ / 0-)

    That show what areas would be flooded with various heights of ocean rise. You shouldn't just look at your own house, but the areas around you. Not so great if you're high and dry and everything around you is flooded and you can't get out. And ditto if the basic infrastructure of your community is flooded, so you're high and dry but have no power or water.

  •  Ironically, or maybe sadly, the "low lying" area (11+ / 0-)

    thing gives Repubs a big pass - since they tend to populate high lying areas.

    or maybe we're talking about different types of lying . . . .

  •  Have to remember the terrain, too (9+ / 0-)

    Whenever folks hear storm surge, they imagine the water rushing over a flat beach (terrifying enough). NY is a city of canyons - all those buildings channel the water into heights much higher than the stated storm surge.

    Not only do the buildings channel the water higher, it channels it into a river with a lot of speed and force. There's a reason why smart (and even the middling-smart folks) don't build in gullies in the southwest. Six inches of rain channeled into a gully can turn into something that can move a light car or truck faster than you can imagine.

  •  My mother reports that she didn't feel (19+ / 0-)

    adequately prepared in New York. She feels that the magnitude of the storm was not well explained. She's alright, but she still has no power or heat and says most of the roads are still flooded. She has no Internet and called me from her cell in her car, plugged in, to update me. She had NO IDEA the extent of the damages that the storm incurred. I told her about 110 people were dead. She was shocked. The night of the Hurricane, I phoned her. She was really relaxed and thought it would be like another Irene. I think that's the impression she got from the news. There was no swaying her and she thought I was overreacting, talking about how bad I heard it would be. She's not a stupid person; she's a very smart human being. Also, she's pretty cautious. She did fill her tub with water. But she didn't anticipate the extent of this storm. It really angered her. She had no clue about Atlantic City and Staten Island. She didn't know the subways were flooded in the city proper.

    She lives fairly close to the shore. All she knew about was the damages she could see from her house, more or less.

    That's one person. And she was less lackadaisical about this then a LOT of other people I talked to.

    Vote YES on Prop. 30, California!!!! Yes on 30, No on 32 & 38. For the future of education.

    by mahakali overdrive on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 09:15:50 PM PDT

    •  Pictures (11+ / 0-)

      My mother's experience sounds similar to yours.  She was bemused by my concern (mostly because she tends to be more anxious than me).  This is why I was informing my family on the East Coast about what was heading their way, while being on the other side of the country.  Of the people I've talked to before and since Sandy hit, those who saw satellite pictures were appropriately alarmed, and those who didn't, weren't.

      Phil S 33's diary indirectly helped them a lot.  I was able to tell my mother before she lost power and phones how to use her gas/electric ignition stove if the power went off.  That one piece of information made a huge difference.  Beholderseye's diary was also really helpful.  I think that was where I discovered weatherunderground.

      Today I was talking to someone who lives in lower Manhattan.  She said noone she knew, including herself, had any idea what was coming.  So I sent her the earlier satellite picture and this one.  Until she saw them today, she had no perspective of what had hit them.

      •  in this day and age of internet and 24 hour news (10+ / 0-)

        if you don't have any idea what's coming then you're simply not paying attention.  Bloomberg doesn't warn and order evacuations just for fun and games.  hell, with his sign language interpreter, even deaf people knew what was going on.

        I'm a blue drop in a red bucket.

        by blue drop on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 11:51:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  i was awake until about 5 a.m. Pacific time... (10+ / 0-)

          reading weather information and watching the Weather Channel getting updates on the storm.  i know people in the region so i had concerns for them.  i'm also a bit of a weather nerd so i'm probably a bit more in tune than most.  my basic knowledge is simply based on an interest of the topic but i know enough that once the pressure dropped to 946 the storm was getting stronger just 12 hours from hitting shore.  it was going to be bad.  i finally went to bed and hoped the situation might improve by the time i woke up the next day.

          I'm a blue drop in a red bucket.

          by blue drop on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 12:07:10 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  that's what makes me so g-d angry still about Bush (7+ / 0-)

          and Katrina. We were here in NH doing the 24/7 weather-nerd thing, showing people the satellite pictures- did anyone else see that inside Katrina there appeared to be 5 arms of the cloud wall, not just 3? It was the most amazing thing I had seen on the weather, and I was scared for Louisiana ad the whole gulf coast. Our then President had access to far more resources than we did, and yet his crew had to produce a DVD and make him sit down and watch it. (IMHO- no evidence beyond his attitude, his bleary eyes, and tales of him drinking at a sports event in Europe, but again IMHO- it seemed like he was too drunk to care and the staff was desperate to make him.)

          •  Bush had no excuse, but I don't know what (5+ / 0-)

            the local weather reporters were telling folks. I don't even think it's necessarily an urban/shore town distinction.  Maybe after listening for a year to hyped up, uninformative weather segments, people aren't likely to consider local metereologists as professionals.

            When I think about what made me appropriately concerned, it would be the weather satellite photos (e.g. Sandy vs. Irene), the 946 pressure thing (I don't understand it, but lowest on record seemed important), and the sources I mentioned saying over and over that hurricane vs tropical storm doesn't mean anything with this one (I think a lot of people don't even pay attention unless it's a hurricane and it wasn't categorized as such when predicting landfall for a long time).  I also trusted my primary sources: weather underground, nws, and noaa.

            When politicians get angry at people for not evacuating, they may forget that they're making their decisions based on a very different set of information.

            •  the 946 pressure thing-lowest on record seemed (6+ / 0-)


              -You bet. That's when I started listening instead of blowing it off. Even here in southwestern NH we had talked to the youngsters about leaving their trailer and coming to our log cabin as a much safer place in what could have been terrible for us but wasn't. Previously unheard of wind-speeds were being predicted for right here, but then as I looked into it more, those were actually for high atmosphere winds, and it was to be only half as strong on the ground. Then as we watched, it took it's left-hook early and went underneath us in the same pattern that has been happening with snowy-nor'easters for the past 6-7 years.  

              But Katrina was a sensational storm coming and many many had forseen what could befall. Hadn't there just been a documentary or major study of 'whatif?' just a year or two before? But the response to Katrina included local area criminal malfeasance. If that had not happened, how many people could have been brought to safety from that direction? I just don't get it.

            •  You have a good point (5+ / 0-)

              I live in Northeast Washington State, which doesn't get severe weather for the most part.  An occasional heavy snow and an ice storm, but not like a Central US ice storm, thunderstorm, hits every few years, and then heavy thunderstorms.  Even so our local TV weather folks are always pushing excitement about the weather.  I think that has a bit to do with the lack of reaction.

              I do wonder how well some people understand weather.  If the folks living there had been watching the Weather Channel, they would have had a clue. Everything all of us paid attention to was covered in their broadcasts.  But, if you didn't realize the size, high tide, approaching cold front, and blocking Greenwich High, then it wouldn't be as frightening.

          •  Bush43 is an alcoholic. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            nuclear winter solstice, ozsea1

            Claims to be dry.

            Wonder if that's the hidden secret of George's years in the White House ???

      •  re: gas/electric igition stoves... (4+ / 0-)

        We were fine- some rain, barely heavy- here in south central NH. But we live near one of Irene's damaged areas, and actually for us it was 2005 when we had Too Much Water, Too Much Rain. So we were all out prepared, including making sure I was spending my time emptying the freezer by roasting or baking anything in it so as to lose less, have some immediate food, AND- I thought- have a reason to keep the oven on so that when we lost power (which we do routinely here in the woods) the oven would be already running and therefore keep on. That has always worked for me in the past.
             Because the gas stove has a stupid electric start ONLY, buried in the way back underneath stuff you have to unscrew, it seems to be specifically designed to keep people from being able to light it themselves. THIS time, in the middle of a clear, pleasant Tuesday afternoon for us, we had a power failure anyway, but it must have been from branches on the wires as it did the on-off-on-off-on-off thing before finally failing. That, unfortunately was enough to turn my oven off and not let it come back on gosh-darn it. We were lucky that between residual heat and our power being restored only a couple hours later, the turkey slow-cooked itself really well... But that was a first for me. Even when you think you are prepared and far enough away, gee- you're not...oops.
             We have also been lucky in the sense that the "Too Much Rain" book affected our area, blocking 3 out of four roads out of my neighborhood then, yet in the end the whole topography of the land has changed since that time, and storms that used to literally come up our driveway as we watched now seem to go a mile or more south of us, leaving us with 3-6 inches of snow after 20 years of being in with the 30" of snow areas. Weird but easier for us.

        •  Those common principles of being prepared (5+ / 0-)

          for an emergency are more difficult to follow now.  A gas stove and a landline were things you didn't allow yourself not to have in my family.  Neither is what it used to be.  Even now, with a full tank of gas, I don't know how I'd open the garage door if the power went out.

          Sandy has brought my first experience with a major natural disaster, one in which I understand the landscape.  Having no roads out is a worry.   My planned means of escape out of a large city has always been my bike with my camping gear, but that won't work in a flood or on an island.

          Thanks for the story.  Hadn't heard of the flood in your area.

    •  The thing that is really hard with hurricanes (5+ / 0-)

      and evacuations USUALLY is that often we don't know where it's actually going to hit until the day before. I personally live in an area that seems to be always in the cone of uncertainty. After living through Isabel and having tree wreakage and my neighborhood literlly inaccessible due to tree damage and being without electricity for close to 10 days, we said that we would never want to experience a Category 2 and would definitely evacuate. The issue then becomes by the time you definitely know you should evacuate, it's almost too late to do it.

      I think many many people remember the hurricane that almost hit Texas (Rita?) which fortunately didn't, but the story with that one was all the people who got stuck on the highways for days without food water and shelter. That one event made millions of people think, I'd rather be stuck in my house than on a highway and I'll take my chances.

      And as lots of people have pointed out, there are so many people in urban areas who have no way to evacuate even if they wanted to. How do they do it and then where do they go? And , if their home is destroyed, then what?

      Katrina already showed us that in the not too distant future, the intranational migration of our very own climate refugees is going to be a big big issue.

      Say NYC (for example) starts getting one major coastal storm impact every three years - at what point do people simply decide that it is no longer a viable place to live and do business? What happens to people whose entire net worth is tied up in property that is no longer desireable or habitable?

      Mitt Romney is so foolish to not recognize that these issues are far bigger than any  town or state can take on for themselves and that their HAS to be a larger government oversight and involvement because they are the only ones capable of enacting sweeping, broad initiatives to deal with the tens of thousands of people impacted.

      The bubbles are just starting to form in the slow boil of climate change.

      “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

      by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 05:08:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  it's hard to prepare (2+ / 0-)

      for us around NYC - we have no experience with coastal flooding on this scale.

      it's hard to forecast storm surge w/so little experience

      & people have no fear of it.

      An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

      by mightymouse on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 03:17:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Most everyone is sensitive to Tsunamis (9+ / 0-)

    Maybe if the media could translate to the general public the similarities to a storm surge and massive tsunami, the message would somehow get through.  Everyone recalls the compelling videos of the Indonesian tsunami.  The storm surge is not likely to be on video because anyone left behind to take pictures would be swept away.  Maybe, just maybe, some will pay attention after this second disaster just a few years after Katrina.  

    On one New Jersey beach community, the mayor said that about 70% of the population ignored the mandatory evaluation order.  It is nothing less than a miracle most of them survived.  

    It is not over.  We will see more of these "storm of the century" events on an increasing frequency.

    The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. - Sun Tzu

    by Otteray Scribe on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 09:29:07 PM PDT

  •  Not to get all geeky (7+ / 0-)

    ...but hurricanes need to be measured by an integral, not just a wind speed.  The scale in use by media and by emergency preparedness people should multiply at least wind speed, storm size, and speed to come up with a truer measure of power and threat.

    Ideology is when you have the answers before you know the questions.
    It is what grows into empty spaces where intelligence has died.

    by Alden on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 10:01:32 PM PDT

  •  i don't understand why Staten Island... (14+ / 0-) such a surprise to the news media days later.  if they were expecting a 6-11 foot storm surge around Long Island and in the New York harbor why wouldn't they expect the same with Staten Island?  while Manhattan is bordered mostly by rivers and the media focus seemed to be there, Staten Island would seem to be more exposed to the surge effects coming off the ocean considering the track of Sandy.  if you look at a map of the NYC area, pull back out of the map and you'll get a better understanding why Staten Island got punched so badly.  they're basically trapped in a corner facing the Atlantic Ocean.

    a rough illustration would be this.

            N |X <---Staten Island
                |                   Atlantic Ocean

    I'm a blue drop in a red bucket.

    by blue drop on Fri Nov 02, 2012 at 11:02:08 PM PDT

  •  I don't understand why anybody was surprised (11+ / 0-)

    The weather forecasters I saw here in Baltimore were unanimous in advising people to forget about precisely what category of hurricane this was, and in advising that the storm surge was likely to be MUCH higher than would be typical for a Category I hurricane.  They all pointed out the huge amount of water being pushed ahead of this thing because of its size.

    In view of the very clear warnings, I can't imagine why NYC didn't order an evacuation of AT LEAST Zones A and B, and probably Zone C as well.

    Bin Laden is dead. GM and Chrysler are alive.

    by leevank on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 12:04:50 AM PDT

    •  I live in Zone C (0+ / 0-)

      We fared well in the storm. We dealt with high winds and rain. A lot of people lost power in this Zone because of downed trees, However, we are inland and not near the coast. If you could see the map of the zoning, we are basically almost completely out of the zoning areas.  There are still people a few miles away who are coworkers who are still without power in Queens due to the trees that came down on power lines. Con Edison has these interactive maps that show how many people still have power outage and when the power is due to be back on.  We are probably several miles away from Far Rockaway where the worst of the damage from the flooding and the fire happened.  One of my coworkers who didn't evacuate had to swim out and lost everything. We work for a homeless shelter and now he is living in a shelter.

      I agree that while listening to the mayor, he stated they were not evacuating two Nursing homes in Zone A, but those people should have been. Considering the size of the storm, the surge with the normal high tide, and the fact the storm hung around for so long. It began raining sometime on Sunday night or Monday and lasted until early Tuesday morning. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for those living near the water who were dealing with flooding.

      I don't understand why the city didn't do more to go door to door and force people to leave in Zone A. If you say its  Mandatory, then you make it Mandatory. Why can't you make it a point. On Saturday this could have been done.

  •  FOX is starting to build a narrative (6+ / 0-)

    to blame Obama for the response and for Staten Island.

    They will run wall to wall coverage on this all weekend and monday.

    CNN won't be far behind them.

  •  I doubt that asking weather men to estimate the (4+ / 0-)

    potential flood zone for a given storm is within their power.

    The huge explosions of water we see in photos of storm waves hitting light houses and break fronts is a good illustration of what happens to the surge as it hits obstructions and has to climb up a coastal slope.

    Succeeding waves pushed by the storm and tides over ride each other relative to a lot of factors.  It would take a physicist to figure out how high the water would rise once it hit land fall, and that would be dependent on a lot of factors like the slope of the coast and obstructions that damned and then released the flow.

    Hopefully there are some folks somewhere with a government funded grand trying to put together a program that could combine the variables and come out with a number.

    Here's another non weather man issue.  When I was a student at UT a suite mate lived in Jourdanton Texas over 100 miles north of the Corpus Christie.  A hurricane came straight at Corpus, Carla, I think, and the people in Jourdanton were warned of possible flooding from the nearby river.
    Not only was the storm surge expected to push water that far north, but of course the surge acted like a cork and prevented the rivers and creeks from flowing out to the Gulf.

    And then, of course, once the storm abated all that bottled up water upriver and upstream, with additional torrential rains from the storm, flooded down on the places that were already flooded near the coast.

    Without a program to crunch numbers in real time the point is that the effects of the storm and surge are much greater than just the surge as it hits the coast line.

    Anyone who lives along the coast who does not leave in the face of a hurricane is an idiot.  

    The government and insurance companies need to stop making the rest of us bail these folks out year after year.
    Local building laws should required hurricane proof houses and businesses, from this point forward, or not be eligible for coverage.

  •  This diary makes too much (3+ / 0-)

    sense. All very good points.

    I don't know much, but even I when looking at the barrier islands on a map know that's a bad place to be during a hurricane.

    music- the universal language

    by daveygodigaditch on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 05:24:00 AM PDT

    •  Barrier islands themselves are the products of (9+ / 0-)

      hurricanes and they are often destroyed by hurricanes. My own feeling is that they were never meant for long term human habitation. In the olden days they were populated by lighthouses and beach shanties and fishing shacks and hotels - most of the population knew they were to be visited but not permanently occupied.

      Nowadays people retire to them! The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.
      I have always been a coastal person myself, but I would never make permanent residence on a barrier beach.

      My feeling about flood insurance is that it should be available for one rebuild of a property. If the property is destroyed a second time, the owner should be able to cash out the value, but not to rebuild and that lot should be declared unbuildable. Over time, and in a gradual fashion, buildings will not exist where nature has decreed they should not be.

      “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

      by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 05:34:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We got part-inundated. Jersey on the water. (6+ / 0-)

    You walk out my back door and you get wet 120-feet later.

    The surge got us. 5- or 6-feet of it, up about 20 miles from the worst areas.

    Luckily we're around a bend so the wind blown waves weren't a factor.

    I'd sent the family to shelter, but stayed to finish moving everything up higher. Didn't plan it out high enough though.

    No water in the main part of the house. Foundation and garage were under water. It got up to the top step of the main entrance.

    When I saw it rising up the steps, around 9:30 PM, I panicked and put things up higher inside the house -- expecting a flood-out. Tough couple hours work but not needed... by about 8-inches of surge rise.

    We're used to surge flood. Built for it. This was the worst in the 40+ years the house has been here.

    Odd thing happened at low tide: the flood receded by a couple feet. Didn't come back.

    There's being smart and there's luck.

    Luck's good to us.

    We "hid" good !!

  •  In Virginia no one lives on the barrier islands (3+ / 0-)

    We've tried it, on Assateague many years ago and more recently on Cedar Island, but we learned that it just isn't practical.  We do like to visit, and between the Federal Government and the Nature Conservancy, we can.  But Assateague, scoured to a skinny spit of sand,  protected my 105 year old house on Chincoteague.  Thank you.

    As a result, there has been little attention to the real damage that was done on Virginia's Eastern Shore, trees down everywhere, buildings washed away in towns like Saxis and Sandford on the bayside, crab houses that provide livings for watermen, houses where people live, year round.  I'm sad to see what's happened in NJ , but those seaside resort towns are barrier islands.  They provide protection and they are constantly moving.  Maybe it's time to rethink and replan where we live on the shore.

  •  We need to reexamine where we live (5+ / 0-)

    we are seeing a new paradigm...coastal areas are more deadly than ever.

    Humans are naturally drawn to the beauty and bounty of our oceans. I think we always have been. But we have forever altered our world and now we will continue to pay the price for living on the shore.

    Yes we need to understand the meaning of storm surge to save lives. Even more, we need to stop building and living on the beach. It is too expensive, too dangerous and too damaging to our environment.

    Severe hurricanes and storm events are increasing because of global warming. The real science community has hypothesized, tested and now correctly predicted, that we will be barraged with deadly weather.

    Yes we need to know about the deadly affects of storm surge. The logical reaction is for us to visit beaches, not live there.

    -7.5 -7.28, A carrot is as close as a rabbit gets to a diamond.-Don Van Vliet

    by Blueslide on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 08:25:05 AM PDT

    •  Sadly this is true (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Phoebe Loosinhouse

      We used to live in coastal Northern CA but the high winds made gardening so hard; then we lived in a houseboat on the SF bay but even though we floated, again the winds in the summer and the hard storms in the winter made life unpleasant. Both places had such lovely times though.

      Now we live about 80 miles inland and we don't get the high winds, the constant fog, the storm surge threat. I loved living by the water but the threats are too great.

      The first time we visited and stayed overnight on the coast after moving to our new house - we had to proactively evacuate up the hill, the tsunami  was expected after the earthquake in Japan. It felt that Mother Nature had a personal message for us. I listened.

      Designing houses to withstand the winds and float on storm surges might make coastal living possible but until then, everyone should wake up to the now current threats.

      Keep constant watch on your mind. - Dalai Lama

      by redstella on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 10:05:54 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Surge (4+ / 0-)

    You can warn people but unless they have been through it some have a hard time believing it.  After Ike, I had someone tell me "Well, you were right.  You warned me."  But unless one follows these storms one really doesn't have a true sense of what they can do.  I think you have some good suggestions.

  •  JMG Linked To 2005 NYPress - SciAm On Surge (2+ / 0-)

    ...that really is a must read. People have been suggesting the east coast needed to gear up for this for some time.

    The Big One: What Happens to NYC When a Monster Hurricane Hits

    New York’s first vulnerability is psychological. This is a city where children playing in the dirt are told by their mothers to “get up off the floor.” We tend to forget that we have any connection whatsoever to the natural world. The vast majority of the city’s eight million inhabitants simply have no idea that a hurricane can happen here.
    We dodged more damage by the storm missing high tide.

    cheerleaders need not apply.

    by kravitz on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 08:56:15 AM PDT

  •  This Tuesday/Wed, coasts are more at risk (3+ / 0-)

    The berms and dunes that were designed to protect the coasts are damaged. So if the possible nor'easter does come Tuesday night into Wednesday, any flooding could impact areas beyond some Zone A's.

    cheerleaders need not apply.

    by kravitz on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 08:59:31 AM PDT

  •  Storm Surge (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Phoebe Loosinhouse

    These surges actually are built up 100 miles from the shore as high as 50 ft ahead of the storm ,they have tidal gauge on weather buoy ,to measure the height of the surge ,  Storm surge  ahead of the storm should be taken in consideration ,when figuring in  zone to abandon during a storm , if people only know how high the tide are before they hit ,it would convince everybody to leave a low lying area

  •  All good ideas (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Phoebe Loosinhouse

    Knowing what to expect will help everyone - used to be there was ancient local knowledge - 'see that tree - it flooded there last time'. You would think with modern specificity we would have substitutes for the local wise people. Maybe with the changing climate - we need to develop these before hand to have them in place. Interactive maps are good - how about making the disclosures mandatory on sale of properties? This isn't rocket science - oh wait maybe it is now.

    Keep constant watch on your mind. - Dalai Lama

    by redstella on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 09:24:33 AM PDT

  •  Here in So Cal (2+ / 0-)

    Many of the beaches and nearby streets will have Tsunami warning signs. It seems a bit ridiculous on a sunny afternoon to drive down a street that indicates this is a tsunami evacuation zone. On the other hand, if there were a strong earthquake I'd consider reversing direction.

    Your idea of signs with elevation near the shores is a good one.

  •  Boy howdy (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Phoebe Loosinhouse
    Mayor Bloomberg didn't have a handle on exactly which areas were at risk during Sandy and which ones should have been given evacuation orders even if they weren't in Zone A. And the same with New Jersey.

    Okay, the Government says you MUST abort your child. NOW do you get it?

    by Catskill Julie on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 10:35:49 AM PDT

  •  How do we persuade people to evacuate? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Phoebe Loosinhouse, ybruti

    A little background:  I spent fifteen years of my working career on storm surge.  I have presented at the State, Federal, and international levels on this topic.  I have predicted surge, visited places that have the potential for storm surge, modeled storm surge, and done post-storm surge surveys.  The Team with which I worked laboured mightily to teach coastal Emergency Managers what the tropical cyclone storm surge potential was for their areas of responsibility.  We did the same for Governors and, on occasion, the White House.

    Notice that I wrote "potential" storm surge, not the "risk" of storm surge.  Risk, defined as "what I don't know divided by what I do know" is zero for storm surge.  Every inch of the U.S. Gulf and East coasts is vulnerable to storm surge.  The problem is conveyance of that information to residents and, more importantly, their understanding of what is being presented.  

    "Cognitive dissonance" is one term that describes residents' (and Governors') unwillingness to believe the potential of surge inundation for their location.  All of us have difficulty thinking about the unthinkable. So too do the sociologists and psychologists who attempt to build better and better "evacuation encouragement" statements for the storm advisories.  After fifty years the same tired, old sociological and psychological post-storm surveys are being used as a data base.  It's time to change that paradigm for the better.

    It's time to listen to risk experts.  (Yes, I've slipped back to using "risk.")  It's time to listen to experts on making judgements under  uncertainty.  Daniel Kahneman's writings make a good start.  Paul Slovic's writings on risk perception are another good read.  Their work brilliantly explains  --- with lab studies  -- why we don't do what we should do, how we make choices to stay or go, and lots of other day-to-day decisions.

    I hope there are some sociologist and psychologists reading this Diary.  Their comments would be good.

    •  I'm looking forward to a diary from you (0+ / 0-)

      on this subject, perhaps with more detail from the authors you suggest at the end. Sounds like you have a book of your own to write.

      The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

      by ybruti on Sat Nov 03, 2012 at 10:12:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  a Diary on dealing with storm surge? (0+ / 0-)

        It may be what I  need to do.  My attempt to curve the topic of this Diary away from the physical manifestation of surge toward the appropriate actions to take to escape it has killed this Diary DEAD!

        I don't know enough to write a book.  All I have are professional experience and the expertise of others.

  •  The good old days (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mightymouse, ybruti

    Sandy was not the 1st flood event for NYC. The Norfolk and Long Island hurricane of 1821 also flooded much the same area of Manhattan:
    "Upon making landfall on Cape May, New Jersey, the cyclone produced a 5 foot (1.5 m) storm surge on the Delaware Bay side of the city.[12] Lasting for several hours, the hurricane force winds were described as "[blowing] with great violence",[6] causing widespread devastation across the region. In Little Egg Harbor, its passage caused damage to the port. Strong winds reached as far inland as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where winds of over 40 mph (60 km/h) downed trees and chimneys; in the city, precipitation accrued to 3.92 inches (99.6 mm). Further to the north, the hurricane destroyed a windmill at Bergen Point, New Jersey.[12] Though the hurricane struck at low tide, it produced a storm surge of over 29 feet (9 m) along several portions of the New Jersey coastline, causing significant overwash.[2]
    The hurricane produced a storm surge of 13 feet (4 m) in only one hour at Battery Park. Manhattan Island was completely flooded to Canal Street; one hurricane researcher remarked that the storm surge flooding would have been much worse, had the hurricane not struck at low tide.[13] "

  •  I like the street sign idea (0+ / 0-)

    The meteorologist could tell people to go check the signs in their area.

    Women create the entire labor force. Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

    by splashy on Sun Nov 04, 2012 at 09:51:37 PM PST

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