Hurricane Season? It’s Not Possible

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If you’re like me, you are NOT ready for hurricane season. As I write this, there is snow on the ground in New York, New Hampshire, Maine, Michigan and Minnesota (as well as the usual higher elevations in the Rocky Mountains, of course). I haven’t yet flipped the home HVAC system from heat to cool and, even today, I have my jacket with me. Here on the Gulf Coast, there’s usually six to eight weeks of warm-up — literally, warm up — before mid-May, and although mid-May is still a few weeks away, it just feels like the hurricane season is far, far away.

Except it’s not.

If you consider that three times in the last seven years there has been a tropical system in the Atlantic Basin that formed prior to the first day of hurricane season (June 1), we’re very close to the window of “anything can happen.” Those years, by the way, were 2012 (5/19), 2009 (5/28) and 2008 (5/31).

Worse, I’m supposed to be more on-the-ball than I am. Each spring ImpactWeather sends a team of senior meteorologists out to visit our clients and present the Employee Hurricane Preparedness Presentation (EHPP) and I’m on that team. Part of my presentation includes me saying, “I begin my preparedness preparations in January and February.” You know, lead by example and all that. Yet, I have yet to begin. Part of that is that my supplies are in very good shape — I’ve been doing this for years, I know what I’m doing and I know it won’t take too much to bring me up to where I need to be. But a big part of it is that it’s still cold out! How does one wrap a brain around hurricane preparedness when it’s still cold?

One of the major lead-ups to the hurricane season for those of us at ImpactWeather is our annual Hurricane Symposium (www.hurricanesymposium.com). This year it’s on May 15 — still a month away, yet I’ve got a million other things to do and I’m out of the country for a week between now and then. What I’d really like to do is move the start of hurricane season to August. August of 2020. That would be great.

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Are you like me? If yes, that can be both good and bad. It can be good because if you are like me then you take your hurricane prep seriously and you’re very close to where you’d ideally like to be. That’s good. But if you’re like me, that also means you have a million things to do and the last thing you want to think about is prepping for a catastrophic storm. That’s bad.

Yet you have to do it. Whether the forecast calls for a busy season or a quiet one, we all have to prepare for the one storm that could change our lives. Prepared or not, storms have a way of turning things seriously upside down and it’s much better to be prepared than the alternative. And if you have a company to protect and employees to look after, then it’s even more imperative that you not postpone your preparedness.

Of course, if you have professional interests to look after during the hurricane season, then our 25th Annual Hurricane Symposium is the place to be and an ideal way to ensure you’re on the right track for the coming season. The link above will take you to the symposium’s website, or you can click here to see our line-up of expert speakers who represent a broad slice of both the onshore and offshore industries, as well as meteorology and the science of hurricanes. Click on either of the links and it’s easy to register.

In just a couple of weeks it will start to feel like hurricane season, but if this year is like 2012 that means we could then only be a couple of weeks away from our first Atlantic storm. We have two more weeks left in April…let’s use this time wisely so that when the hurricane season jumps up and says, “I’m here!” we won’t be surprised. Even better, we’ll be ready.

Contact me if you’d like more information on our EHPP. Each presentation is about 50-55 minutes and covers topics such as building an emergency kit, what to do in power outages, personal safety in a disaster area and more.

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How Mighty El Nino? What it Means to You

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This is the time of year when El Niño, or lack thereof, makes a lot of press. Just in the last few days there have been several online articles that caught my attention, but if you do a Yahoo! or Google search on “2014 El Niño” more than 24 million hits will be returned. Is it that big of a deal?

Actually, yes. It is that big of a deal. Perhaps, “El Niño mas Grandé” might be a more appropriate term because it’s not just “the child,” but the child who is so big he reaches out and touches almost every human on the planet. Especially considering that the 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season is on the near horizon and El Niño can be an influencing factor, all eyes are on this cyclical — and potentially dominating — weather feature.

When viewed from space, the Pacific seems mild and tranquil. However, warmer than normal water temperatures just below the surface can impact climate from one side of the globe to the other.

When viewed from space, the Pacific seems mild and tranquil. However, warmer than normal water temperatures just below the surface can impact climate from one side of the globe to the other.

Let’s make sure we’re all understanding just who this kid is and what he does. El Niño (in Spanish, the child (masculine)) signifies an unusual warming of the eastern Pacific surface and near-surface waters. Warmer waters effect the lower atmosphere above it, allowing more instability which in turn allows more rainfall and more thunderstorm activity. This translates into more clouds that, thanks to the prevailing westerlies, travel eastward and tend to cloud-over the Caribbean, the southern United States and the Equatorial Atlantic resulting in cooler water temperatures. At least one result in the Atlantic is the likelihood for a somewhat reduced hurricane count.

Not to belabor the back-story of El Niño, but any student of atmospheric dynamics or physics knows that one can’t have cause without effect, or warming without cooling, or wetting without drying. A warmer eastern Pacific means a cooler western Pacific, a cooler western Pacific means a cooler and drier eastern Australia, as an example. A warmer eastern Pacific even changes the abundance of fish and therefore has an affect on the fishing industry. We’ve barely touched on the consequences of El Niño, yet we’ve touched everyone from Australia to the U.S. and even to Europe and Africa. “El Niño mas Grande?” Sure!

Skipping right past a moderate or weak El Niño, one article I read the other day wondered just how mighty the 2014 El Niño would be (“¡El Niño Poderoso!”). While some articles wonder if there will be an El Niño, others attempt to gauge its strength and still others are beginning to trend it downward from previous estimates, this article asked “How mighty?”

There are lots of players on this field, but the biggest would have to be NOAA. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center weighed in yesterday: “While ENSO-neutral is favored for Northern Hemisphere spring, the chances of El Niño increase during the remainder of the year, exceeding 50 percent by summer.” Government-speak headlines are not always the most elegant of prose, but their point is clear — they’re not yet leaning strongly one way or the other. (Read their six-page report here.)

The opposite of El Nino, La Nina, brings cooler-than-normal waters to the eastern Pacific. In turn, this brings an abundance of sealife to feast and frolic.

The opposite of El Nino, La Nina, brings cooler-than-normal waters to the eastern Pacific. In turn, this brings an abundance of sea life to feast and frolic.

I still like “mighty.” ImpactWeather’s long-range expert, Sr. Meteorologist Fred Schmude, lays it out thusly: risk of El Niño, near 100%; risk of moderate El Niño, 90%; risk of strong El Niño, 70%. (Fred correlates “moderate” with a +1.0C anomaly and strong with a +1.5C anomaly.)

What’s this mean to you? Right off the bat (all other things being equal), I’d take a storm or two off the usual total for Atlantic Basin tropical storms. Fewer storms, less rainfall; more clouds, cooler temperatures from Central America to the Atlantic. Cooler waters in the western Pacific should translate into more stable conditions — drier and cooler for Australia. I’d up the temperatures for the west coast of South America as those warmer EastPac waters shut off the more typical cool upwelling. I’d also up the rainfall across the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and with a more active southern jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere, I think more rain across the southern U.S. should be considered. Additionally, as computer models are suggesting El Niño will continue into the fall and winter, wetter and cooler conditions should prevail across the southern U.S as we push toward the New Year.

All this rain — might it be a drought-buster for California? There should certainly be more rain and at times heavy, flood-/landslide-inducing rain, but the drought is extensive — much of California today is classified as severe and extreme drought, with central California classified as exceptional. Flooding and landslides aside, El Niño conditions should bring abundant rain to this area, and how much remains to be seen. However, it will likely take ongoing El Niño conditions to bring significant relief.

The mighty El Niño’s reach is far and its effect is much greater than “simple” warming of the eastern Pacific. Where will this episode of The Child rank? Will it be mild or extreme? Will he be pouty or outright naughty? Time will tell, but I already think we need a way to send this kid to time-out.

 

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The Polar Vortex Isn’t Going Away

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I’d like to nominate polar vortex as Meteorological Term of the Year. It wasn’t too long ago that you couldn’t watch the evening news or visit your favorite online site and not see the term polar vortex. Not only that, but it was usually followed by “and if you think this one is bad (cold) wait until next week!” If there was a comments sections to the article, somebody would invariably ask, “What’s this polar vortex?” while somebody else would comment, “Global warming!”

The first day of spring is less than 10 days from now, yet there's a significant snow storm underway today in the Northeast.

The first day of spring is less than 10 days from now, yet there’s a significant snow storm underway today over the Great Lakes and it will move to the Northeast tomorrow. Yet another storm is possible for the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic by the middle of next week.

How have we arrived in 2014 without already learning of the Polar Vortex (read with deep, booming voice)? Must be some new thing, right? Truth be told, it’s always been there. It’s not a function of global warming or climate change, it hasn’t been caused by the pollution over eastern China and it’s absolutely not responsible for Sharknado! However, there are a few things related to this past winter season that perhaps should’ve shared the media spotlight with the polar vortex. The first would be La Niña and the second would be the pronounced and long-lived North Pacific blocking ridge. Before we begin with those two items, some background on the polar vortex might be helpful.

The Polar Vortex, as we came to know it this past winter, was a brutally cold outbreak of Arctic air, descending from the main vortex while plunging much farther south than usual. Since we’d not heard of it before and it had to do with crazy weather, naturally it was assumed the polar vortex (or, P-vo, as I like to call it) was a new feature and had to be the result of climate change. Alas, it’s not nearly that sophisticated.

Since the world began spinning, there’s been a polar vortex. It looks like the first Wikipedia entry on the subject was in 2005, but the spinning planet predates that by several years. And it’s not a difficult concept to grasp: Put yourself at the very top of the world and stand so you’re facing west. Without any weather system to otherwise alter the wind and assuming no sources of friction like mountains or skyscrapers or trees, you’ll have a wind in your face from the west. That wind is, generally speaking, the polar vortex (Dictionary.com defines polar as pertaining to the North or South Pole and vortex as a whirling mass of air, especially one in the form of a visible column or spiral, [such] as a tornado). That’s P-vo. During the Northern Hemisphere’s winter, when the North Pole is tilted farthest from the incoming rays of the sun and shrouded in darkness, the vortex is at its strongest.

What of the blocking Pacific ridge? That’s the real story. With the strong blocking ridge taking the shape of an amplified Omega, unusually warm air (on warm ocean currents) drifted north. The strong ridge displaced the typical center of the vortex about 10 degrees farther south than normal. And since an Omega block is difficult to displace, it seemed the vortex settled into the new neighborhood with no intention of returning home. On several occasions (and for extended periods) this past winter, Houston was colder than Anchorage and Alaska set records for the third warmest January of all time (since records have been kept). As ImpactWeather’s MarineWatch Manager, Joe Basciani, said earlier today, “What goes up, must come down” — if unusually warm air is moving northward someplace, then there must be unusually cold air moving southward someplace. As it turns out, that someplace was the eastern half of the United States.

In the shape of the Greek letter Omega, an upper-flow pattern such as the one above is difficult to break. Warm air off the mild Pacific easily streamed into Alaska, while frigid air sourced from Siberia and northwestern Canada plunged into the Midwest, the Deep South and the eastern U.S. Image: ImpactWeather

In the shape of the Greek letter Omega, an upper-flow pattern such as the one above is difficult
to break. Warm air off the mild Pacific easily streamed into Alaska, while frigid air sourced from Siberia and
northwestern Canada plunged into the Midwest, the Deep South and the eastern U.S. In the meantime, California stayed unusually dry – another La Nina characteristic. Image: ImpactWeather

And we have to consider La Niña in this broad, global pattern. The cooler-than-normal central Pacific waters which indicate the presence of La Niña, tend to enhance the high pressure over the central and eastern Pacific. In turn, this helps anchor the Omega block.

Without the Omega, the vortex wouldn’t have been displaced. Without the Omega, Alaska wouldn’t have been so warm. Without the Omega, Houston (and so many other places) wouldn’t have been so cold. Without the Omega, California wouldn’t be in the midst of this generational drought – wait, that’s a story for another time.

As for the history of P-vo, why have we not heard of this before? We have actually, if not in name then at least in symptom. For that, we’d have to go back to the 1970s for a similar weather pattern. Like a new generation raised on the coast without ever experiencing a hurricane (and thinking, “No big deal,”), today’s casual weather-watchers aren’t quite as tuned in as they should be before declaring something as “new.” We’d have to go to our grandparents to get the true take on this past winter, and maybe their parents or grandparents for the previous occurrence of the polar vortex and its unusual push southward.

As with many things concerning the weather, rarely is an event truly localized or truly isolated. It’s all global, of which we only see our one small part. The sun, the atmosphere, the oceans are all driving factors that simply can’t dish out the brutal winter to Secaucus in New Jersey, without reversing the situation in, for instance, Homer, Alaska.

Our ImpactWeather team of meteorologists is equipped to see the big picture. Our StormGeo family of companies has 25 offices in 14 countries and meteorological offices in key locations across the globe. Our forecasts for ships, aircraft and onshore facilities have to consider every aspect of any blocking ridge, as well as unusual temperatures brought about by La Niña and/or El Niño. The polar vortex is an intricate and related piece of all the global weather patterns — it’s always been there and it’s not going away any time soon.

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Traveling to the coldest location on earth? Better bring a jacket and a meteorologist.

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It may have felt like a frozen tundra outside your home this morning, but imagine being stranded in temperatures plummeting to -30 degrees for several days. For a group of 74 passengers onboard the Russian-flagged Akademik Shokalkiy, this became a reality last week. According to CNN, a team of scientists and researchers travelled to one of the world’s harshest environments to retrace Sir Douglas Mawson’s 1911 Antarctic expedition. The goal was to reveal the environmental changes that have occurred in the region over the past century.

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Icebreaker vessels, like the example above, can cut through up to three feet of solid ice.

What these modern day explorers didn’t plan for, however, was becoming trapped in the middle of a bleak and bitter icy desert with piercing winds and severe storms threatening their adventure. Though the ship was considered to be “ice-strengthened,” it became stuck in more than six feet of sea ice. To make matters worse, nearly three icebreaker ships, which are strong enough to pierce three feet of solid ice, couldn’t gain access to the Akademik because of poor weather conditions. In the end, 52 non-essential personnel were evacuated, but both the Akademik and a Chinese icebreaker had to radio in for additional support from the United States Coast Guard to free them from their conundrum.

Now, picture this ship as part of your drilling operation. Many offshore oil and gas operators inside the Arctic Circle understand these hazards all too well. Suppose this ship was carrying supplies, products or personnel? This type of exacerbated downtime could result in major profit losses and operational delays. Repairs to the ship from ice damage could cost companies thousands, if not millions, of dollars, while safety would be a top concern for officials, especially if there was a medical emergency or a lack of food and supplies onboard.

 

Citizens walking through blizzard

Much of the United States experienced freezing temperatures this week as a blast of Arctic air blew through the country.

The Akademik passengers made light of their situation, but a drilling operation’s crucial timeline would not be so forgiving in this scenario. Exploration and production teams must be even more vigilant in such remote locations as the Arctic, than anywhere else on earth. These past few days, we’ve seen how an Arctic blast from the north can halt travel, disrupt supply chains, close schools and government facilities and burst pipes. We prepared for this rare environmental phenomenon, but in the Arctic, this type of weather is the norm.

Knowing when, where and how sea ice, wind, wave height and severe weather will disrupt supply chains is now more crucial than ever. Hiring an outsourced weather department to monitor these unpredictable conditions allows operators to focus on the essentials of their projects. Vessel routing, aviation forecasting, access to a live meteorologist 24/7 and site-specific weather monitoring and alerting, are just a few strategies that keep operators ahead of competitors and the next big storm.

To learn more about Arctic weather forecasting, visit ImpactWeather’s parent company StormGeo at booth #60 during the Meet Alaska Conference in Anchorage on Friday, Jan. 10.

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Dreaming of a white Christmas? You just might get your wish.

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A Christmas Story movie

Source: Wikipedia.org

It’s (considered) the best time of the year when children and adults alike share in the wonderment of the season of giving. Sparkling lights glisten on giant Fir trees, while holiday crooners Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. play softly in the background. Tales of sugar plum fairies and The Night Before Christmas dance in youngsters’ heads, and adults enjoy watching such guilty pleasures as A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Carol, or my personal favorite, A Christmas Story.

winter wonderland trailYes, for many, the holiday season couldn’t get any better. However, one wish many Americans share is for a winter wonderland to blanket their yards on Dec. 25. As Bing Crosby so eloquently put it, [we’re] dreaming of a white Christmas.

According to ImpactWeather’s long-range forecast expert, Fred Schmude, you could awake to a scene from the North Pole outside your window on Christmas morning. In our second seasonal winter weather outlook webinar, Schmude explains factors that determine the holiday forecast, including water temperature anomalies, computer models, weather trends, ENSO and the southern storm track, to name a few.

Now, will you be singing “let it snow” this year? From Seattle, through Chicago and into Boston, much of the northern United States will be shoveling their driveways and sidewalks. Happy Holidays from ImpactWeatherWhen Santa comes to town, he’ll also bring a -10 to -15F below normal temperature dip from the Rockies and the Great Plains to New England. Schmude also reveals that there is a higher risk for a white Christmas from North Texas to the Canadian border and from Tennessee to Maine.

While there is still time for Mother Nature to change her mind within the next two weeks, it’s a good idea to prepare for possible weather disruptions or travel delays that could arise with freezing temperatures and snow fall during the holiday week.

From our ImpactWeather family to yours, we hope you have a safe and happy holiday!

 

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Snoopy Grounded?

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For 87 years, millions of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade enthusiasts flock to the heart of Manhattan to watch one of the holiday’s best kept traditions. This past Thanksgiving did not disappoint, with live dance performances, Broadway musical numbers, floats, celebrities and of course, Santa. However, one tradition that might have been snuffed was seeing our favorite, lovable cartoon characters take flight, including the likes of Snoopy, Garfield and SpongeBob.

Parade floats by John Minchillo of AP

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon handlers prepare to start marching. (Photo Credit: John Minchillo / AP)

What is a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade without seeing gravity-defying balloons float above the heads of thousands of squealing children? We almost found out. Due to high winds, a few snow storms and a strong cold front that grounded planes in much of the Northeast, parade executives were hesitant to send these parade stars aloft. According to parade officials, for the balloons to participate, no section of the route should have winds in excess of 23 mph, or gusts exceeding 34 mph. This is due in large part to safety concerns for parade-goers.

In 1997, 43 mph winds blew the Cat in the Hat balloon into a lamppost, causing many injuries, including a woman who was in a coma for nearly a month. The problem arises when the balloons turn corners or cross through intersections between towering skyscrapers, where an updraft can catch a balloon and its handlers off guard.

Santa Claus at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Image Credit by Tweber1

Santa Clause greets Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade onlookers. (Photo Credit: Tweber1)

This year, New York City Police Officers monitored the winds using gauges along the route, and the balloons ended up taking flight just minutes before the start of the parade. Parade enthusiasts were not disappointed, but the irony of the weather watching “technology” employed by New York’s finest cannot be ignored. Having police officers monitor the weather is akin to meteorologists handing out speeding tickets. High winds and gusts can be tricky to monitor with a wind gauge, especially if the people operating them are not well-versed in meteorology.

Macy’s could have alleviated the stress and tension of this last minute decision had they incorporated a site-specific weather alerting service into their parade plans. Since all of ImpactWeather’s services are designed for each client’s needs, Macy’s could have benefitted from high wind and gust alerts from a team of highly-trained meteorologists who can monitor the winds from state-of-the-art technology located in our 24/7 operations department.

Not only can these meteorologists be available by phone or email to the on-site officials, but they can monitor winds down to the latitude and longitude of the parade route. With these types of services, parade officials could have made their decision hours in advance, and focused on more pressing issues, like where they should stand to catch a glimpse of Santa.

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When Mother Nature shows no mercy

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Typhoon Haiyan. A name now synonymous in history books with the Great Bhola Cyclone, Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. The Category 5 storm set the world record for the most powerful typhoon or hurricane ever to make landfall with wind speeds of 195 mph, and was more than 300 miles wide. This super typhoon, as many are calling it, slammed into the Philippines early Friday morning leaving a path of death and destruction that the country hadn’t seen since the Great Tsunami of 2004, which killed approximately 150,000 people in 11 countries.

2004 Tsunami aftermath

Aftermath of the Great Tsunami of 2004 that ravaged 11 countries.

Even though President Benigno Aquino III and the Philippines government prepared for the super typhoon by moving 800,000 citizens out of the storm’s path to evacuation centers, the death toll is still estimated to climb to 10,000 people. Why were so many lives lost? Unfortunately, there are many reasons why the Philippines will take not just weeks to recover, but months and possibly years.

The Philippines is considered a developing country even though it’s ranked 40th in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). The country suffers from an unbelievably high poverty and unemployment rate, which could potentially get worse as recovery efforts continue to reveal more losses for their already struggling economy.

During the storm, buildings, homes and businesses were flattened. While many factors produced this effect, in most developing countries building codes are either not enforced or nonexistent. Storms like Haiyan, with winds of nearly 200 mph, can demolish structures of all shapes and sizes if they are not reinforced.

Storm surge can have even more damaging effects than wind. Super Typhoon Haiyan had storm surges as high as 20 feet in some areas, which many officials in the country had not anticipated. According to the Washington Post, citizens of Tacloban, the hardest hit community, said that they were ready for the wind, but not the water.

FEMA recovery signage

Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, FEMA and other government-run agencies banded together to support citizens and the recovery efforts.

Could a storm as powerful as Super Typhoon Haiyan cause the same amount of damage if it landed on U.S. soil? We hope not. Developed countries, like the United States, are more likely to bounce back following a mega storm similar to Haiyan, but that doesn’t mean businesses and citizens alike are free from preparing for even the smallest of tropical storms.

Today, the U.S. is prepared to handle both preparation for and recovery from a major storm. Better forecasting is available, which provides people with more time to evacuate. Founded in 1979, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) exists to aid with recovery efforts, while it and other government agencies offers extensive emergency preparedness education to businesses and citizens. Building codes across the country are also designed to withstand very high winds and flooding, depending on the weather history of the region in question. We may not be 100 percent prepared 100 percent of the time, but through our country’s diligence, we may be able to save more lives.

If you would like to help with the recovery efforts in the Philippines, the American Red Cross is accepting donations online.

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One Year Later: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Superstorm Sandy

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Sign from Superstorm Sandy - We will be back and better than ever.

This sign captures the attitude of many citizens in New England following Superstorm Sandy.

This time last year, millions of people along the East Coast were recovering from the destructive effects of one of the costliest storms in United States history – “Superstorm” Sandy. Considered the deadliest storm of the 2012 hurricane season, Sandy showed our country and economy just how susceptible we were to flooding, power outages and holes in our emergency response systems. Whether locals suffered from the “alert fatigue” of 2011’s Hurricane Irene or had the “it won’t happen to me” mentality, Sandy provided a rude awakening to even the most prepared of businesses. While we did learn quite a bit about our resiliency to these mega storms, businesses still have much to do to prepare for the next Sandy or Katrina.

The Good:  The old saying rings true following Superstorm Sandy – hindsight is 20/20. Many cities, including New York are more prepared today than they were one year ago. From the subway systems to redrawn flood maps and better meals for evacuees, New York City is elevating its emergency response and is more prepared for the next big storm.

The Bad:  Two major areas that revealed troubling weaknesses in the wake of Sandy were utility providers and hospitals. As we mentioned in a previous blog entry, millions of people and businesses were without power for weeks following Sandy. However, utility providers still believe the cost of reinforcing power lines is more expensive than the cost of recovery. This terrifying reality doesn’t take into effect how businesses, the community and economy could suffer from these power outages, which may in turn delay recovery efforts.

Hospitals, such as Bellevue and NYU Langone Medical Center, were forced to evacuate during Sandy, moving all patients, even those who were deemed critical. It was hardly the ideal situation for any hospital, but the storm revealed major weaknesses in those hospitals’ emergency response plans. Since then, many New York area hospitals have moved generators and electrical switchboards from the basements to higher floors.

Lower Manhattan is left in the dark following Superstorm Sandy.

Lower Manhattan suffered tremendous power outages following Superstorm Sandy.

The Ugly:  Regardless of what side of the fence you occupy in the climate change debate, sea levels are rising.  According to a recent report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels are expected to rise more than three feet by 2100. Major metropolitan cities like Houston, Miami and New York City have buildings that predate the understanding of climate change. Adapting to these changes is on the horizon, but can be quite costly to implement.

The current presidential administration recently assembled a task force on climate change to prepare governments from the federal to the local levels, while New York City invested $648 million in its Build it Back program, providing aid to those homeowners who prefer to move away from the coastline rather than rebuild. New York City’s (former) Mayor Bloomberg even proposed a $20 billion plan to fortify the city against storm surge and flooding with levees, flood walls and bulkheads.

The challenge faced by many coastal governments is balancing the cost of preparing for the next major storm with the popularity of living near the water. As major metropolitan areas attract homeowners, they also attract businesses, which are even more susceptible to these storms if they do not have an emergency response plan. A significant and detrimental impact on businesses is storm surge, which can cause just as much damage, if not more, than high winds and heavy rain. If your business plans to stay located near a port, coastline or river and flooding isn’t already a part of your emergency response plan, it should be.

What we learned: Prepare, prepare, prepare. History has a way of repeating itself, but if there is one thing we can all take away from Superstorm Sandy, it is how to avoid the mistakes made by others, and fortify your business, government or local community before the next billion dollar storm rumbles in.

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Jack Frost Could Be Halloween’s New Villain

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Haunted House and Pumpkin for HalloweenHalloween in America is a time to share our scariest, nail-biting tales or celebrate our favorite villains, such as the headless horseman, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and “Jason”.

A new villain may also be among us this Halloween. He blows into town uninvited, freezing pipes, disrupting supply chains and wreaking havoc on everyone’s immune systems. He may be known by many names, but none as recognizable as Jack Frost. Just like a typical Halloween bad guy, Jack surprised us with his early arrival across much of the United States last week, but will he continue to lurk around every corner through the rest of the winter season?

Winter Weather Forecast for Oct. 30 - Nov. 5

ImpactWeather’s Fred Schmude shares his forecast for the upcoming week.

According to ImpactWeather’s long-range forecast expert, Fred Schmude, these early cold temperatures will linger for a while. During our recent winter outlook webinar, Fred stated that a large section of the United States, from the Rockies to the East Coast, will experience below normal temperatures with wetter weather forecasted for much of the Southeast. This translates into a higher than normal risk for wintry weather in the South, higher than normal snowfall and freezing rain from the Midwest to New England, and extreme cold warnings for much of Canada and the Northern United States.

Jack Frost may not wield a machete, wear a mask or hide under the bed, but his menacing ways can cause unnecessary downtime for your business if you’re not prepared. Icy roads, freezing rain and extreme snowfall result in power outages, employee absence, transportation delays, travel cancellations and more.

There is a way, however, to combat Jack Frost’s tyranny with a well-thought-out winter weather response plan. Below are a couple of simple steps you can utilize this season:

  • Develop and/or update your emergency response plan – Ensure that your severe weather response plan includes steps to be taken during such weather conditions as blizzards, snowfall and ice. Will two inches of icy rain affect your business or will it take 20 inches of snow before you shut down operations? Knowing the answer to these questions ahead of time will improve your response to severe weather.
  • Utilize a mass notification tool – Blizzards and ice may make it hard for employees to safely travel to work. In the event of a severe snow storm, stay connected with your employees by sending updates, travel advisories and more through an established mass notification tool.
  • Establish a telecommute policy – If icy roads keep your employees from traveling to work, telecommuting is a safe alternative to encourage continuous work flow.  Traffic Jam in Winter
  • Winterize your supply chain – Nothing is more susceptible to the winter weather than pipes, chemicals and vehicles. Maintaining a list of contractors and parts suppliers for your facility will mitigate downtime associated with freezing weather. Prior to the first freeze, your business should also inspect and test power sources such as generators and heating systems.
  • Remind personnel to use any portable heaters safely – Even though many buildings ban portable heaters, we all know that one employee who gets a chill when the temperature drops below 80 degrees. Improperly stored heaters are a fire hazard. Make sure your employees are aware of the risks.
  • Provide moisture absorbent mats at building entrances – This will reduce injuries from employees slipping and falling on slick surfaces.

Even though the first day of winter doesn’t technically arrive until Dec. 21, many states have already seen a glimpse of what’s to come this season with snowfall in the Rockies and bitter temperatures across New England. It’s not too late, though, to combat the holiday blues by preparing your business today for Jack and his arsenal of winter weather woes.

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Storms at sea – rising waves and worries for offshore operators

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After churning in the Gulf of Mexico last week, Tropical Storm Karen dissipated into the quiet of the night without so much as a blip on the radar screen in her final hours. Even before this storm created any kind of disturbance, many offshore operators, including several ImpactWeather clients, were paying close attention to weather reports and started to evacuate non-essential personnel.

Now, as companies like BP, Marathon and Chevron work to restore their platforms to full operation status, many wonder if it was worth halting nearly two-thirds of oil output in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico to remove personnel from a threat that eventually did not materialize to full force. Based on our study of how severe weather affects an offshore oil operation, those questioning the decisions of the oil operators might reconsider.

Rescue boat near offshore oil rigIt’s the mother of worst-case-scenarios: a “pop-up” hurricane that develops in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, without warning or lead time, affecting rigs thousands of miles from the nearest shore line. These weather events can result in oil rigs being beaten and bent by heavy winds, piercing rain pelting their structure, and lightning rivaled by what Hollywood producers create for movies like The Perfect Storm. When a disturbance starts churning ever so slowly into a mega storm, the ImpactWeather operations department pays attention intensively because it can take anywhere from a few days to a full week for clients to evacuate rigs. Logistics for evacuations are so multi-faceted, that waiting until the final hours is never an option.

So, what happens to an offshore rig when a 157 mph hurricane comes barreling toward it? First, we must look at the three different types of drilling equipment that oil operators’ use, including shallow water elevated rigs, deepwater floating platforms and drill ships. The shallow water jack-up rigs can operate in up to 200 feet of water, and are typically raised 50 feet above the ocean’s surface. The deepwater floating platforms are the mega rigs in the middle of the ocean with 12 to 16 giant cables connecting the platform to the sea floor. The third, and most vulnerable, is drill ships, which are often located in deep water and attached to the sea floor via “risers.”

Each of these structures is at the mercy of a hurricane’s high winds and deadly waves. High winds can damage a rig’s cranes, communications antennae and lighter pieces of equipment that are not secured to the platform. They can also knock drill ships off-site if they do not disconnect from a riser in time. A drill ship that becomes dislocated from its moorings can create some considerable damage to nearby pipes on the sea bed, or worse, cause an oil spill.

Waves, however, are what do the most damage to the oil operators’ locations both above the ocean’s surface and deep below. Large hurricanes can generate waves tall enough to reach the shallow water rigs. Hurricanes Ike, Katrina, Rita and Ivan produced waves up to 100 feet tall. Jack-up rigs hovering only 50 feet above sea level barely stand a chance against a force that mighty. Waves can capsize drill ships, bend a shallow water rig’s metal posts, or submerge a platform. They can also cause extensive damage to underwater pipelines by causing landslides that shift the sea floor.

Operators discuss evacuation on helicopter landing pad offshoreIn 2008, Hurricanes Ike and Gustav destroyed 60 platforms with 31 of them needing three to six months of repair time. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ivan did similar damage, with Katrina and Rita causing even more of a headache with the destruction of 101 pipelines.

Now, imagine if people had to shelter in place on these rigs because they couldn’t evacuate in time – clearly not an ideal situation for any offshore operator. People are the number one reason for the implementation of these safety precautions. When the deadline arrived for the decision to evacuate or not, operators will choose the safest route and evacuate without question to keep employees out of harm’s way. As destructive as recent hurricanes have been to offshore operators, they have also provided a wealth of learning experiences that contribute to the continual improvement of safety protocols.

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