You Think it’s Quiet, but it’s Actually Unprecedented

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How many times have meteorologists heard the old joke that goes something like this: “I wish I had a job where I could be wrong 50% of the time and still get paid.” That one’s like fingernails on a chalkboard, but I try not to let it bother me. Now though, I worry about the potential for a new weatherman joke that will go something like this: “I wish I could have a job where I don’t have to do anything and still get paid.”

Do nothing? You and I both know that even a “sunny” forecast takes effort, but what you might not know is that, from coast to coast, there have been no weather warnings issued by the National Weather Service for the month of March. None, zero, bupkis. In a period known for being fraught with severe weather and tornadoes, that’s not only remarkable but unprecedented.

2015-0318-NWS-NONE

According to the NOAA’s Public Affairs Office, in an article written yesterday (link), “unprecedented” is the word they used to describe the void. More detail was provided by Greg Carbin, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the Severe Prediction Center, “We are in uncharted territory with respect to lack of severe weather. This has never happened in the record of SPC watches dating back to 1970.”

Not only have there been no severe weather watches issued for the month of March, but there have only been four for the entire year. While the month is still underway, consider the count during the January-February time period last year (26), in 2013 (46) and in 2008 (82). These numbers consider daily watches issued for the past 45 years.

More numbers to consider: By mid-March there are typically 52 tornado watches issued, though only four have been issued to date this year. Additionally, 130 tornadoes are typically reported from January 1 through mid-March, yet only 20 are in the books thus far.

Good news, but why? Meteorologist Carbin continued: “We’re in a persistent pattern that suppresses severe weather, and the right ingredients—moisture, instability, and lift—have not been brought together in any consistent way so far this year.”

2015-03-18-JF-watches-by-day

Incidentally, these ingredients (or culprits, depending on your point of view), are the same ones that have been hampering thunderstorm development over the Tropics over the last few years, leading to lower-than-expected seasonal hurricane forecasts, as well as actual hurricanes.

While we’re counting days and records, here’s something else: It’s been well beyond the typical number of days since the last major category hurricane to strike the U.S. Coastline. Category 3 or higher hurricanes typically strike the U.S. coast every 1.5-to-2 years, yet the last such storm, Hurricane Wilma (link) in October, 2005 was 9.4 years ago. As of today, that’s 3,442 days ago.

Though I like to joke myself that having broad shoulders and learning how to take a joke were lessons we meteorologists learned on Day 1 of weather school, the real severe weather season—April and May—are right around the corner. Our unprecedented quiet period will come to a dramatic end and it will be time to go back to work.

Be informed about severe weather. Severe Weather Awareness information can be found here, while your state and local National Weather Services offices (link) sponsor Severe Weather Awareness activities at this time of year. Twitter is also great source for local severe weather information when you follow your local National Weather Service office, county OEM and media outlets. Now is also a great time to update your smart phone with the latest severe weather apps that can put forecasts, watches, warnings, radar animations and more in the palm of your hand.

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Seasonal Temperatures – the Math Doesn’t Add Up

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As a professional meteorologist, I have mixed feelings about how the general population hears the weather forecast. And, as a former on-air television and radio meteorologist, I also have mixed feelings about how best to present the weather to the general population.

First, let me say that I don’t mean to insult, but an effective presentation that’s delivered to a broad and largely unknown audience (like those of radio and television) has to be (or should be) presented with the lowest common denominator in mind. You know darn well that if you’re a meteorologist talking to a roomful of meteorologists (or astronauts talking to space people, or lawyers talking to legal people and so on), the words you choose and the concepts or ideas you express will be different than if you’re talking to the local PTA after dinner. It has to be or you’ll lose most of your audience before the third slide. I’m reminded of highway speed limits—they’re not designed for a Ferrari on a warm, sunny day with a professional driver. No, they’re designed for the overloaded SUV, at night, in the rain with a typical American driver at the wheel—the lowest common denominator.

Math isn't easy

Which leaves the on-air meteorologist, arguably the most educated person in science and math at the station, in a bit of a quandary. Meteorology and the movement of the atmosphere are driven by complex mathematical equations, none of which are easy to explain in the 3-, 4- or sometimes 6-minutes segments devoted to the weather on TV (when I did radio, my spots were hard-limited to 30 seconds). So they have to be skipped (ignored) in favor of something more easy to digest. Tell me what you think of this, “And this large dip in the jet stream will bring unsettled weather to Texas and the Southeast.” With the right audience, a meteorologist could turn that single sentence into 30 minutes, easy. However, the television meteorologist isn’t left with many other options.

This came to light the other night when my lovely wife and I were wrapping up the evening watching the late news. The TV meteorologist gave tomorrow’s high and low and compared it to seasonal averages. My wife said, “Wow, we’re nowhere close to where we should be for this time of year.” She’s not quite right about that, although I only said, “Yup. Pretty cold, alright.”

Seasonal temperature norms are only mathematical averages of daily temperatures that have already occurred. With that in mind, if the high one day is 70 and the high the other day is 50, then the norm of the two is 60—yet 60 wasn’t the high on the first day or the second day. In fact, it’s way off what was experienced on either day. These differences become less dramatic when considering years and years of data and less apparent still when the actual temperatures have little variation. However, temperatures on the Gulf Coast in January and February can swing broadly between post-frontal highs in the 30s and return-flow temperatures from the Gulf in the 70s only a few days later. This is a just a local example from my backyard, but any place can have swings from one extreme to the other when the mathematical average is far from representative of what actually occurred. For example, if Houston experiences a January with a week in the 30s, then a week in the 60s, then a week in the 70s then a week back in the 30s, the rough math brings the norm into the upper 40s, yet it’s quite possible there wasn’t a single day with a January high in the upper 40s. What’s normal here is change and often the change is dramatic.

When you watch the TV forecast (or listen to the radio forecast), what do you hear? When the meteorologist says “the average high temperature is 63,” do you long for a week in the low 60s? Or do you remember the plunging and rising thermometer and think, “Yeah, right! When’s the last time we saw a high near 63?” Or perhaps you’re one of the few who would say, “I don’t care about the average temperature, just tell me what it’s going to be tomorrow.”

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The Weather App Trap: Can You Make Decisions Using Weather Apps?

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How do you check the weather? Are you a wet-finger-in-the-air guy? Do you watch the morning news and commit the forecast to memory for the rest of the day? Do you pull out your smartphone and see what your home page tells you? Or do you have several apps on your phone—maybe you have a favorite, maybe you have dismissed a few and are still searching for the right one, or maybe you take the middle ground between the various apps? After all, some apps have “this” and some apps have “that,” but no app has everything. And that includes accuracy.

Accuracy is what separates the good apps from all the rest. If one weather app lets you down more than a couple of times, chances are you’ll move it to your trash bin or ignore it. But it pays to know how your apps work—what’s the “engine” that drives it – because that will have a direct result on the overall accuracy. Many apps run off a computer model or perhaps several and some may give you the choice of what model you prefer to view. Some apps take the model data and convert it into something human friendly, while some are simply a portal to a data supermarket. Hopefully you know what you want and how to get it because it might be daunting!

Interface on tablet and smartphone screens against stormy weather by the seaWhat about other apps? You don’t have to be a meteorologist or work for the government or a weather company to publish a weather app. I just checked Google’s Play Store from my phone and searched for “weather.” I stopped counting when I reached 150 individual apps. Surely some of them must be disappointing, or worse. Could a few of the apps have a teenaged designer who fancies herself/himself as a budding meteorologist? Maybe this self-proclaimed weather expert has given his app a hi-tech-sounding name that gives the app an air of science or importance that just sounds accurate.

More than a week ago one of my apps that uses the ECMWF pegged snow and freezing temperatures moving into the Houston area (and other Gulf Coast states) for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. That’s an attention-grabber, for sure. As ImpactWeather’s StormWatch team was considering the same thing, I thought, “Nice job, app!” The next day however, the app’s forecast had moved warmer—snow replaced by rain and temperatures now in the 40s. Over the past week the app indicated bouncing temperatures and the precipitation has come and gone—and then come and gone again. Can you make decisions based on that? Meanwhile, StormWatch has hung onto the cold and perhaps snowy forecast and opened an ongoing line of communication with our clients—being sure to discuss everything in the communication: the good, the bad; the known, the unknown.

Apps have other drawbacks. Your app can’t call you to say bad weather is on the way. It can’t give you a heads-up that it’s going to snow or that the bottom of the thermometer is going to fall out or that thunderstorms may shut down your operations in six hours. Something else your app can’t do? Express forecaster confidence.

Forecaster confidence is something we always express at ImpactWeather and we express it as high, medium or low. Don’t be confused by probability of precipitation (POP). Models derive POPs, so do human forecasters. Though many consider POP a form of a fudge factor, it’s defined as the probability of measurable precipitation occurring in the forecast area during a given time period. Granted, the difference between POP and confidence may be subtle but there are indeed times when a meteorologist has little faith in what the models are indicating. Combine that with missinNo Signal With This Stormy Skyg or incomplete data (technology can sometimes let you down), and it’s easy to have low confidence. However, sometimes the forecast is so tricky—like an ice storm on the Gulf Coast—that even model consensus and all the data in the world will still cause the forecaster to say, “Wait a second. Let’s take another look at this and not be so quick to pull the trigger.” An app driven solely by model data will plow through with the icy forecast, while a forecast with a human factor can present a more full picture.

And what about when your app crashes, the cell or Wi-Fi network fails or your battery dies?

Smartphone weather apps are great—at least, many of them are—but know what their limits and capabilities are and don’t rely on them as your only source of weather information.

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Why the Current California Rain is Not Helping the Drought Enough

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While any precipitation is better than none, the type of precipitation that falls can have a dramatic effect on how the precipitation is absorbed by the soil and later recovered in the aquifers and reservoirs and how it will ultimately ease the record-breaking and extensive drought across the state of California.

Over the past several weeks, lots of rain has moved across the western coast of the United States. California has been on the receiving end of quite a bit of it and at times it’s been falling inches per day, day after day. Though flooding, mud slides, sink holes, mandatory evacuations and death have occurred, you would not be alone in assuming that despite the tremendous damage and tragedy, the rain has got to be doing tremendous good towards easing the drought. To some degree it is, but unfortunately most of the rainfall is hitting storm drains and estuaries and rushing out to sea almost as fast as it’s falling from the sky. In terms of the drought, it’s only a tantalizing tease.

FOr the first time in recorded history, all of California is in drought. Source: U.S. Drought Monitor

For the first time in recorded history, all of California is experiencing drought conditions. Source: U.S. Drought Monitor

Rushing out to sea rather than being absorbed by the soil? After years of drought in which rain is not only not falling from the sky, moisture has been evaporating from the soil. Soil without moisture compacts, making it difficult to absorb new moisture quickly. A downpour from the sky or a downhill rush of rainfall from higher elevations will have difficulty penetrating such soil, so it will tend instead to take the path of least resistance and continue downhill to the sea.

The type of soil also has a dramatic effect on whether rainfall is absorbed or not. Mark McFarland with Texas Agrilife Extension, “Typically, sands are going to have larger pore spaces and so the movement of water into the soil is much more rapid, and it can move down into the soil more quickly,” he says. “Clays on the other hand are fine-textured soils and in other words the particles are much smaller and typically the pore space is considerably smaller. The rate of infiltration and the conductivity of water down into the soil are going to be slower.” (Link.)

To best ease the California drought, a series of slow and steady, as well as prolonged rainfall events are needed. With soil properly hydrated, additional moisture can be absorbed, slowing what flows into rivers, drains, and spillways.

Rain however, is not the only form of precipitation to fall from the sky. What may be the best form of long-term drought relief is what is now falling in the higher elevations of California, even though its benefit may still be months from now: snow. As the snowpack slowly melts in the spring and summer of 2015, it will have tremendous effect on the drought, not only re-hydrating the soil but also filling reservoirs as the steady and predictable run-off is pulled downhill.

Snowpack across California's Sierra Nevada Mountains will have better results

When it comes to feeding California’s reservoirs, building snowpack across California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains will have better results than the current flooding rains. Image: Convict Lake in the eastern Sierra Nevadas of California.

ImpactWeather’s long-range forecast specialist, Senior Meteorologist Fred Schmude, attributes two ongoing and developing features to the predicted amount of snowfall: El Niño and the Pacific blocking ridge. “I would favor the central and southern areas with the best risk for heavier than normal snowpack, especially from the central and southern Sierra of California eastward across Utah, Arizona, Colorado and most of New Mexico, thanks in large part to a stronger than normal southern storm track and a higher frequency of disturbances. Over the Northern Rockies I would expect the snowpack to be closer to normal, except over the Pacific Northwest from northern California northward across Oregon, Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana where below normal snow pack is expected.”

Fred’s forecast relies on what does or does not happen with El Niño. “Even though we’re highly confident a weak to moderate El Niño will develop this year which will provide an extra punch to the southern storm track, there’s still some uncertainty on the exact position of this feature. If the southern storm track winds up farther to the east, then we could see most of the precipitation-bearing systems remaining east of the Rockies towards the East Coast and Atlantic Seaboard. For now though, we favor the southern third to half of the Lower 48 seeing the most precipitation.”

Looking ahead to the last week of December and the early weeks of January and February, Fred expects the Pacific blocking ridge to drive storm tracks farther south and east than is typical. “Over the Rockies, the best chance for heavier than normal snowfall during this time period will be centered over the southern third of the area, especially from California eastward across Utah and Arizona to Colorado and New Mexico,” he said.

California's Hetch Hetchy Reservoir will be one of the recipients of the coming spring and summer snowpack run-off.

California’s Hetch Hetchy Reservoir will be one of the recipients of the coming spring and summer snowpack run-off.

If all goes well, there should be plenty of water flowing into the reservoirs that feed the major population and agricultural centers of California in just a few months’ time.

In a study released today, NOAA researchers offer insight into how understanding the relationship between ocean and atmospheric patterns can lead to better understanding and prediction of the ongoing drought, as well as future drought events. View the full report here: http://cpo.noaa.gov/MAPP/californiadroughtreport.

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A Busy Month of Activities as ImpactWeather Observes National Preparedness Month

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The month of September is known as National Preparedness Month. ImpactReady, ImpactWeather’s business continuity department, has worked hard to encourage employee participation to strengthen our state of disaster preparedness and readiness. Of course, September is typically the peak of hurricane season but also signals the changing of the seasons from summer to fall, which can occasionally result in the threat of severe weather. Late summer and early fall is also the height of the wildfire season in the American West, while the threat of blizzards and ice storms may only be a few short weeks away. What better time to bring awareness to personal preparedness? Fortunately, the hurricane season has been relatively quiet with only five named storms to date. However, preparedness is a continual improvement process and National Preparedness Month is promoted to bring awareness of disaster preparedness tools and activities and encourage participation on a personal level.

CPR

Pictured above from left to right: Rachel, Charlotte, Alison, Miles (Instructor), Chelsea, Ed, and Terra

At our Houston office, ImpactWeather kicked off National Preparedness Month by scheduling employee-centric activities including CPR/AED Training and Fire Extinguisher Training. For many participants, the CPR/AED training was a certification session and for others it was a refresher course. This was the third year CPR/AED training was offered on-site and all who participated are now certified in the life-saving technique of CPR and use of an AED (automated external defibrillator; link). Like many companies across the country, ImpactWeather has a conveniently-located AED that is regularly checked for proper operation.

Fire Extinguisher

Dave (Trainee) demonstrates to the class how to extinguish a trash can fire held by Robert (Instructor).

 

The following week, Fire Extinguisher Training was offered to all employees. In addition to being trained by a dynamic retired captain with the Houston Fire Department, the session included hands-on training with a fire simulator and a laser-pointing fire extinguisher—a big hit! In general, I think it’s safe to say that most people have seen what a fire extinguisher looks like and perhaps have witnessed its use on TV or in the movies, but not many have extensive experience with such a critical tool and may find the task of using one intimidating, especially in a life-threatening situation.  The presentation covered the different types of fire extinguishers used to squelch various types of fires and flammable materials. Some of the video footage we observed during the training course left jaw-dropping impressions about how quickly and violently a fire can spread, even in a simple office setting. The training was well received and we definitely have a new respect for fire safety and best practices.

To cap off our National Preparedness Month activities, a building- and tenant-wide fire drill has been scheduled for October 1st (side note: Oct. 1st is admittedly not September, but the drill was rescheduled from a previous date due to unforeseeable circumstances). The good news is that the ice cream social following the drill was successfully rescheduled for that date as well. Fire and ice – never have the two sounded better together and a fitting close to National Preparedness Month.

Lastly, ImpactWeather is capping off NPM by participating in National PrepareAthon! Day (today!) by testing our emergency mass notification tool internally. Our objectives are to promote awareness of the tool to ImpactWeather employees and to test the functionality of the notification system so that in the event of an actual emergency our employees will be familiar with the process. We are also seeking to verify that we have the correct emergency contact information for each employee. By testing our emergency notification system internally, we are taking one more step to participate in a national day of action to increase emergency preparedness and resiliency of all ImpactWeather employees.

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Emergency Response Plans Tried-and-True? Practice Makes Perfect!

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National Preparedness Month (NPM) continues as we near the end of September and although NPM is coming to a close, emergency preparedness is a continual improvement process. I hope you will take this opportunity to think about preparedness initiatives for your organization. The final topic for NPM has to do with practicing for an emergency. Anyone who has participated in activities involving teamwork—from music to sports to emergency drills—knows that practice is the best way to achieve your goals and execute strategies effectively under stressful circumstances. Best laid plans can fall to pieces if an organization’s personnel are unfamiliar with the strategy and expectations for business continuity and disaster recovery. Practicing your emergency action plans and flushing out problems and discrepancies prior to an event will result in a more successful outcome during a real-life event.

But success is not just about practice. Knowing your organization’s vulnerabilities is key to building a successful business continuity program. One of the best ways to practice for an emergency is to run a tabletop exercise. Located in Houston, ImpactWeather has a hurricane risk. Each year we run a tabletop exercise with our Incident Management Team and we make it a point to focus on the decision-making process during an emergency situation such as a landfalling hurricane. In most organizations, roles and personnel change, so it’s important that team members new to the Incident Management Team (Crisis Management Team, Incident Support Team, etc) are familiar with their responsibilities and expectations during an emergency.

Emergency Sign

It’s also important to test your internal Emergency Notification System so that all employees are familiar with the notifications and will respond appropriately during an event. Having an updated list of contact information is also a key component of effectively testing the notification system. The digital age allows notifications to be sent via SMS text, email, work phone, personal cell phone, and even social media. Defining the notification system that works best for your organization will depend on your own specific needs, however, the practice of testing is universally recommended.

A word about Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA): Do you ever receive emergency alerts on your smart phone or other wireless device and wonder where they originate? These alerts include a special tone and vibration, both of which are repeated twice. The WEA messages are emergency messages sent by authorized government alerting authorities through your mobile carrier. They are free of charge and include alerts for extreme weather and other threatening emergencies in your area, AMBER Alerts and Presidential Alerts during a national emergency. It’s interesting to note you can opt-out of receiving WEA messages for imminent threats and AMBER alerts, but not for Presidential messages. All this and more information can be found on the FEMA website for Wireless Emergency Alerts.

National Preparedness Month is designed to spur you into action; to begin designing an emergency plan, to drill one that already exists, to open a dialogue with your employees and Incident Management Team and more. September is drawing to a close, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to delay or ignore your preparedness planning.

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Best Practices and Specific Needs: Items and Strategies You May Have Overlooked

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This is the second posting from the ImpactReady team at ImpactWeather. Our goal is to spread awareness about National Preparedness Month and share information about how you and your family can be prepared for major disasters. Following along the National Preparedness Month guidelines for weeks two and three, the focus of this post will be about how to plan for specific needs before a disaster and how to build an emergency kit.

Emergency Planning and Disaster Response as Concept

Just this morning I was watching the news headlines and was saddened to learn that more than 1,500 homes in Northern California are under evacuation orders due to an out of control wildfire. Can you imagine having only minutes to collect yourself and your family and flee from the perils of a raging wildfire? What would you take with you? What would you do with your pets? What about the elderly or those in need of special assistance? All of these are questions to consider carefully while planning ahead and making preparations. Whether the disaster is a wildfire, ice storm, devastating hurricane, flooding, tornado outbreak or any number of other disasters, you can take measures now to be prepared, stay safe and facilitate the recovery process.

The first step to being prepared is to be informed of the potential risks in your area. Could your area potentially face an evacuation in the event of a natural disaster or some unforeseen circumstance? Do you prefer to ride-out a disaster (such as a hurricane) at home with the potential of being without utilities for days or even weeks during recovery? It’s important to know the answers to these questions prior to the next threatening event.

The next preparedness step is to have an effective communications plan. Inform your immediate family, friends and coworkers (if appropriate) where you will go in case of a disaster. It’s important to have a personal support network that can provide resources and assistance, if needed.

A high priority for preparedness should be building an emergency kit. It’s commonly known that the reality of disaster situations is that everyday conveniences will likely be unavailable. It’s important to think through your daily routine, consider the essentials and prepare a kit that includes survival basics – food, water, prescription medication, first aid, and tools. Additionally, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) recommends that all of us be self-sufficient for at least three days—food, water, first aid, batteries, prescription meds, everything you need to survive 72 hours without assistance. Other important items to consider including would be important documents (birth certificates, insurance papers, etc) and cash. An excellent resource for helping you build a basic emergency supply kit can be found on the FEMA website www.ready.gov.

For most households, preparing for a disaster often means planning for members of the family who cannot plan for themselves, specifically, children, the elderly, and pets. Being a mother of a young child, I understand that when preparing to spend even one night away from home, the car is loaded almost to the max. How am I expected to evacuate an entire family including two dogs and two cats? Answer: by pre-planning and taking only the essentials.

It is important to remember when preparing kids for an evacuation situation there is a wealth of information on the ready.gov website. When preparing the basics, you will need to include clothes, diapers, special food considerations (we all know young ones are picky eaters!), along with toys and stuffed animals to bring comfort. Helping kids understand that you have a plan in place and that they are safe will go a long way to ease their fears of the situation. For in-depth information about how to help children cope with a disaster, please visit the informational guide for parents found on the FEMA website.

After so many pets were left behind during the Hurricane Katrina evacuation, shelters and hotels now have re-evaluated their pet policy during emergency evacuations.

After so many pets were left behind during the Hurricane Katrina evacuation, shelters and hotels now have re-evaluated their pet policy during emergency evacuations.

When preparing for a disaster, it’s important to consider your pets. Evacuating without them is not an option for most and it’s unlikely they’ll be able to survive on their own, so additional planning is recommended for your beloved furry (and non-furry) friends. Food and water are key, along with medicine and medical records from your veterinary. Collars with ID tags and leashes are a must. Also, you will need to have a crate or pet carrier. Don’t forget sanitation necessities such as cat litter and litter box, newspapers, paper towels, and plastic trash bags. To help ease the burden of evacuating with your animals, consider asking a friend or relative outside of the evacuation area to host your animals. Having up to three days of emergency supplies on hand is recommended. Lastly, carry a picture of you and your pet together in case you become separated. For tips and information on how to prepare your pet for an emergency, please see this helpful brochure.

Preparing for an emergency is challenging, especially for the elderly and people with disabilities. Special considerations and preparations can be made ahead of time to ensure those with special needs are not left unprepared. Having a plan in place to cope with a disaster will lead to a better outcome than having no plan at all. The fundamental steps of preparedness include being informed of the risks, preparing communication and evacuation plans with family and support networks, and having an emergency kit. For those with special needs, make sure everyone knows how you plan to evacuate your residence and where you will go in case a disaster strikes. Make sure someone has an extra key to your home and knows where you keep your emergency supplies. If any lifesaving equipment or medication is required, make sure someone in your support network knows how to use the devices. Also, if the medical equipment at home requires electricity to operate, talk to your healthcare provider about a back-up plan for its use during a power outage. For more information about preparing those with special needs for a disaster, please see this helpful brochure provided by FEMA through ready.gov.

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National Preparedness Month and a Time Without Twitter

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[This is a guest post from ImpactWeather’s Business Continuity Specialist, Alison Svrcek. To mark National Preparedness Month, Alison’s team at ImpactReady has several blog posts scheduled for the rest of the month. Read Alison’s bio here.]

September is National Preparedness Month (link) and it’s perhaps no coincidence that it falls during what is historically the most active month of the Atlantic Hurricane Season. Though the 2014 Atlantic season has been quiet thus far, the 114th anniversary of the deadliest natural disaster in United States history—with over 8,000 lives lost—was yesterday, and it was a hurricane. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 crept up to the Texas Coast with little fanfare and caught most residents of the island by surprise. Today it’s hard to imagine a time when the term “emergency communications” had yet to be coined, but in 1900 telephones and even electricity, were not yet common conveniences (Alexander Graham Bell placed the first New York-Chicago phone call in 1892). At the turn of the last century the telegraph, rider on horseback and word of mouth were the only communication options that could be considered “quick.” Fast-forward to 2014 and it’s readily apparent that our technology-savvy world is vastly different from 114 years ago. In an instant and from almost any location, you can update your status to Twitter and Facebook for anyone in the world to see, while posting photos to Instagram and checking the exact location of your friends using GPS technology. Except of course, during a catastrophic disaster when all at once we are cast into the shadows of 1900 without electricity, without telephones, without Twitter. How will you and your family reconnect if you are separated?

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900, even 114 years later, is still categorized as the worst natural disaster in United States history. Photo: Public domain

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900, even 114 years later, is still categorized as the worst natural disaster in United States history. Photo: Public domain

The first week of National Preparedness Month activities centers on how to Reconnect with Family After a Disaster. Do you and your family have a plan to stay connected? The FEMA website Ready.gov provides helpful tips and information about how to establish communications and prepare for a disaster. Even in today’s digital world, it’s important to make a contact card for each family member, including children, and to keep this information handy in a purse, wallet, briefcase, laptop case, backpack, car glove box and book bag. Another helpful tip is to check with your child’s school or daycare facility about their identification and communication plan during an emergency.

The hand-drawn surface analysis from the day before landfall of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane. Image: Public domain

The hand-drawn surface analysis from the day before landfall of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane. Image: Public domain

Next, designate a contact such as a friend or relative living out-of-state for household members to notify that they are safe. Make sure every member of the family knows the phone number and has a method to call: cell phone, coins for a pay phone or prepaid phone card to reach the emergency contact. Also, program an ICE (In Case of Emergency) contact into your phone and make sure to tell the person you’ve chosen him or her as your ICE contact. First responders often check ICE listings to reach immediate family during an emergency.

Lastly, ensure family members know how to use text messaging (aka SMS or Short Message Service). Network disruptions often occur during emergencies due to volume overload or damage to infrastructure, however SMS messages are more likely to transmit successfully during an emergency. It’s also helpful to subscribe to local emergency alert services. You can visit your local Office of Emergency Management website for more information.

This is the first of ongoing blog postings from the ImpactReady team. We look forward to promoting personal and business preparedness and readiness on an regular basis. With the promotion of National Preparedness Month, we will continue to provide help tips and information to keep you and your family safe in the event of an emergency.

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A Volcano is Not the Last Thing You Need to Worry About: How A Distant Eruption Can Impact the U.S. and the World

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It’s not every day that a volcanic eruption in Iceland can reach out and touch those of us in the United States, but that is certainly the case today (and tomorrow and the next day). The feared eruption of Bardarbunga—Iceland’s second tallest volcano—is thought to be so imminent that the Icelandic government evacuated more than 300 people from the region last week (an early no-fly zone was eased today). Thousands of earthquakes have occurred in just the past week, a sign of increasing magma flow and rising expectation of an eruption.

First, I don’t mean to deflect concern from the eruption potential and what it means to the people of Iceland. I’ve written about the volcanoes and their potential for eruption several times over the past few years, even the Bardarbunga stratovolcano (Katla Volcano, Bardarbunga Volcano) that now has the Icelandic population on high alert. However, a major eruption of this size could be climate-impacting on a global scale and so this becomes an issue for the world.

Bardarbunga is sealed under half a mile of ice. If the eruption happens and the ice seal remains unbroken, the massive release of heat will cause tremendous flooding issues for Iceland. If the eruption is strong enough to break through the ice—and many experts believe it is—then this eruption may rewrite the history books. Bardarbunga does not erupt often, but when it does it is significant. Just yesterday an earthquake within Bardarbunga was classified as the strongest since 1996 and the Gjálp eruption.

Buried under nearly half a mile of ice, the Bardarbunga Volcano is not much to look at from the air. This image shows the Vatnajokull ice cap that has-thus far-kept a catastrophic eruption at bay.

Buried under nearly half a mile of ice, the Bardarbunga Volcano is not much to look at. This image shows the Vatnajokull ice cap that has-thus far-kept a catastrophic eruption at bay.

What does all this mean for the rest of us? It was four years ago that the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, erupted in April, 2010. The explosive eruption caused a week’s worth of air travel disruption, no-fly zones and airspace closures over many areas of Europe and was responsible for billions of dollars in damage. Though the volcano is considered dormant now, the eruption showed how a distant and remote eruption can impact people across the world. The eruption being considered at Bardarbunga could be even more massive. Just this morning, ImpactWeather’s Sr. Meteorologist and geologist, Fred Schmude noted his long-range seasonal forecast which calls for most of this country to be under cooler if not outright colder conditions, as well as wetter conditions, for the winter of 2014-2015. Fred pointed out that, “If Bardarbunga does erupt in an explosive hydro-magmatic fashion, we could be looking at even colder weather.”

Consider a volcanic eruption stronger than Eyjafjallajokull—one that might not just shut down airspace across sections of western Europe, but most of Europe and perhaps even Asia. Consider the time of year in the Northern Hemisphere—the nearing end of summer and cooler weather right around the corner. In this part of Texas, today marks the first day of school and a sure sign that stores are beginning to accept warmer stock in anticipation of winter. What if Fred’s conclusion about a Bardarbunga eruption proves to be correct? We already have a cooler season expected, but could an even cooler one be one distant eruption away?

Would decreased air traffic for a large part of the Northern Hemisphere play havoc with business? Would executives be forced to miss or cancel meetings? Would the cost of air travel rise? Would the cost of a gallon of gasoline go up? Would the world of shoestring supply chains that famously survive on limited stock and fast turn-over based on overnight delivery, unravel? Would that cause the managers of the local Target, Wal-Mart or countless local and global retailers to shrug their shoulders to the demands of their shoppers who can’t buy a heavier jacket? What about the decreased incoming solar radiation, diminished by high altitude volcanic ash? Would solar panels become less effective? Would lakes cool faster allowing seasonal ice-over to occur sooner? Would this inhibit lake and river travel and shipping?

With hurricane season well under way in the tropical Atlantic, many businesses with exposure to tropical threat have incorporated contingency plans and disaster response plans to effectively mitigate damage and manage the crisis. But is the threat isolated to hurricanes? One doesn’t have to look far to see how easily businesses can be disrupted. From yesterday’s Napa earthquake (link), to the recent and ongoing fears of the major Ebola outbreak, to the drought and wildfires of the western United States, to the civil and racial unrest in Ferguson, MO (link) it’s the foolhardy business without the need for a good business continuity plan. Just today, forecast consensus believes that Tropical Storm Cristobal will remain off the U.S. East Coast (good news for those still not fully recovered from Superstorm Sandy!), while all eyes are now on Tropical Disturbance 22 in the north-central Gulf of Mexico moving in the direction of Texas. The likelihood of development is low, but it’s now time to review your well-practiced hurricane response plan, not create one from scratch.

Over the past few years the alarms have been raised often concerning the next Icelandic eruption. Will it happen today? Will it happen tomorrow or next year? No one can know with certainty, yet it will happen someday.

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Next Atlantic Hurricane: You Should be Uncertain and Aware of It

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If you’re following Twitter and other up-to-the minute sources, you know that there’s a potential hurricane boiling in the central Atlantic Ocean. That said, the as-yet undeveloped hurricane may possibly take aim at Florida and even the Gulf of Mexico. However, the development for this type of major storm is still a long way off in both distance and time, and any number of things may happen.

What’s that mean to you? Is it time to fill up the gas tanks, turn off the electricity, batten down the hatches and head for the safety of high ground hundreds of miles from the coast? Not quite yet.

Earlier this morning, I noticed a tweet (link) that circled an area of disturbed weather in the central Atlantic and then drew a line directly to Houston. Rest assured Houstonians, it’s still too early to predict landfall in your city for a storm that hasn’t developed yet and is still a week away from Cuba. Additionally, computer models are still undecided about which area of disturbed weather will become the eventual hurricane.

This is the image tweeted by Harris County's Public Information Office earlier this morning. If you live in Houston, what does this tell you?

Though this image was tweeted earlier this morning, it is still too early to suggest any kind of tropical development will affect specific areas of the U.S. coast.

Even though the tweet only suggested the Tropics are “about to get busy,” that kind of graphic does get your attention, doesn’t it? Though it’s too early to suggest that an area of very distant disturbed weather is coming to the U.S., the Gulf, Houston, or anywhere else, it is the perfect time to consider the development potential. Take the time to double-check your emergency kit and other preparedness items, and make sure your family is aware that it’s hurricane season. Also keep in mind that we are moving into the busiest part of the season historically (the climatological peak of hurricane season is less than a month away on Sept. 10).

Indeed this area is being closely watched by ImpactWeather’s TropicsWatch team (@TropicsWatch). Our clients’ daily video from early this morning noted development potential for a tropical cyclone in the 6-9 day time period. We will continue to monitor this developing situation.

One thing all of us here can agree on is that being at the end of a 10-day storm track is one of the best places to be since we still have time to prepare our family, homes, businesses, employees and operations for a threat.

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