Thursday, June 1, 2017

That Time Of Year Again

June 1 is the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season.  It goes until the end of November.

It’s been twelve years since we’ve had a direct hit in Miami-Dade County; Katrina tromped through here in August 2005 before turning its sights on New Orleans, and in late October of that year we had Wilma.  In both cases I made it through relatively unscathed (can’t say the same for the kumquat tree in the back yard of the house I was in at the time), but each year brings the possibility of another hit.  Just because it’s been a while since we’ve had a storm doesn’t mean it can’t happen again.  So I’m going to be prepared (although I don’t have an Aunt Linda in New Jersey to use as my contact).

I can’t think of a place in the country where there isn’t some indigenous form of bad weather or natural disaster lurking: tornadoes in the Midwest, earthquakes and wildfires in California and the West Coast, ice storms and blizzards in the Northeast, dust storms in the desert.  At least with a hurricane we get a little warning.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Hurricane Matthew Update #9

Hurricane Matthew is off-shore and heading out to sea, and I hope that’s the last of him coming near land.  I’ll keep an eye on him, but hopefully this is the last of the updates.

There are a lot of people who have a lot of hard work ahead of them, and there was tremendous loss of life in Haiti.  If you want to donate to restoration and repair, I suggest you use Charity Navigator as your guide and find one that both meets the needs and has been vetted.


Friday, October 7, 2016

Hurricane Matthew Update #8

Hurricane Matthew is staying offshore but is still a Cat 3 so it’s still dangerous.  It is now up off the Melbourne / Cape Canaveral area and tracking to move parallel to the coastline and possibly circle back towards the Bahamas and South Florida again next week.

The Miami Herald is reporting that 86,000 people were without power in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties.  They’re even reporting that we lost power down here in my area, which is news to me because I never did.  Anyway, FPL is on the job, but as far as I can tell, the storm didn’t do any damage in this area and all is well.

9:00 AM: The 8 AM track shows the hurricane has moved up the coast and the eye is still off-shore.  Meanwhile, I did hear from Bob that last night he lost power in his house, and he’s 3 miles north of me.  It seems to be an isolated outage; he and the Old Professor are on a small grid and his neighbors to the north have power.

11:00 AM: There’s been a reported wobble to the east which could mean trouble for Jacksonville and southeast Georgia’s barrier islands.

2:00 PM: Still a Cat 3 and off the coast of Jacksonville, Amelia Island, and Fernandina Beach.

5:00 PM: It is now a Cat 2 but still powerful and with storm surges heading for the low-lying islands off the Georgia coast, it’s still dangerous.

8:00 PM: Stay safe tonight.


Here’s the link to the Jacksonville regional radar.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hurricane Matthew Update #6

It looks like Daytona Beach is where Hurricane Matthew will make its closest pass to land.  Here in Miami-Dade we are expecting to see 3 – 5 inches of rain later today.  We remain under a tropical storm warning.

8:00 AM: We had some rain move through around 7:15, the first of the outer bands to reach shore.  We expect this continue throughout the day with more rain and wind.  The eye is just south of Nassau, Bahamas, and still tracking to the northwest and aiming for the Space Coast: Melbourne, Daytona, and Cape Canaveral, with wind and rain reaching as far inland as Orlando.

If for some reason we lose power down here, don’t worry about me; I have a flashlight and canned food, and I’ll report back in when I can.

11:00 AM: More rain but no wind yet; it looks like it won’t pick up until later today.

2:00 PM: Occasional rain but still no wind.  The good news is that the eye has moved north of the latitude of Miami, which means it will not come ashore here.  The bad news is that we are on the “dirty” side of the circulation, which means it moves faster and carries more rain.  The storm is also intensifying since it crossed the Bahamas so it’s going to really wreak havoc when it passes close to the coast up north.

5:00 PM: Nothing has changed here in this part of Miami-Dade County.  No wind, an occasional shower, and even a few patches of clear sky.  Based on the map, though, it is still a very strong storm and if you or anyone you know is in the hurricane warning area, follow the directions of the authorities.  If they tell you to get out, get out.


Here’s a radar image from 5 PM. You can watch it live here.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hurricane Matthew Update #5

The east coast of the US is under some kind of watch or warning, with Florida under hurricane watch from just north of Miami-Dade to Jacksonville.  Miami-Dade is under a tropical storm warning with the storm expecting to arrive by midday Thursday.

This latest five-day forecast has the storm circling back on itself and looking like it’s lining up to take another whack at South Florida.  I have never seen that before and I don’t like it.


Hurricane Watch

We will find out later today if my office will be closed tomorrow (Thursday) because of the approach and passing of Hurricane Matthew.  As of this writing — early morning on Wednesday — Miami-Dade County is under a tropical storm watch, but just to the north of here, from Fort Lauderdale to Jacksonville, they are under a hurricane watch.  If you want to follow the preparation and the warnings, the Miami Herald has lifted their paywall portcullis for the duration.

Hurricanes are a messy business; they radiate wind and rain miles away from the center of the storm and in my previous brushes with them in 2005 (Katrina and Wilma) even being on the outer edge brings destruction.  The authorities tell us to stock up and make plans for hunkering down or evacuation.  I’ve followed their advice: both cars have full tanks, I’ve got cash, and I have enough water, canned soup, bread, peanut butter, and Nature Valley birdseed bars to last a week.  Oh, and yes, I did renew my renters insurance.

So we wait.

Update: School’s out early today and cancelled on Thursday and Friday.  Here in the office we cover our computers and monitors with garbage bags in case the roof leaks (which, in a hurricane, is the least of our worries). So someone said, “Get the bags,” and of course I replied, “Okay, you take the blonde and I’ll get the one in the turban.” [rimshot] (HT to “Young Frankenstein”)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Monday, October 3, 2016

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday, September 2, 2016

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Friday, January 15, 2016

Short Takes

ISIS claims credit for the attack in Jakarta that killed seven.

President Obama took his SOTU tour to Louisiana.

Anglicans suspend entire U.S. Episcopal church over marriage equality.

Goldman Sachs to pay $5 billion in mortgage settlement.

The Oscar nominations were announced.

Tropical Update: A hurricane in January?  I blame Al Gore.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Reading

Why The Benghazi Committee Was An Embarrassment — Charlie Pierce on the spectacle.

As a public service, I would like to give the voters of Alabama’s Second Congressional District a preview of one of the campaign commercials they are going to see next fall, when Congresswoman Martha Roby is running for re-election. There is going to be a serious movie-trailer in-a-world musical introduction and then a clip of Ms. Roby thundering at Hillary Rodham Clinton, “I don’t know why that’s funny. Did you have any in-person briefings? I don’t find it funny at all…The reason I say it’s not funny is because it went well into the night when our folks on the ground were still in danger, so I don’t think it’s funny to ask if you’re alone the whole night.” And then, Martha Roby – Not Afraid.

Paid For By The Committee To Re-Elect The Clueless.

What you will not see is Hillary Rodham Clinton’s finally breaking into the gale of laughter she’d been suppressing for about seven hours, and those members of the gallery still conscious enough to laugh guffawing right along with her. This is because if you watched the hearings in real time, you would realize, in context, that in her outrage, Ms. Roby looked like nothing more than an angry nun who’d reached for her ruler only to realize that someone had switched in a vibrator on her. It was that kind of day. It was that kind of night. Well, if nothing else, HRC’s stalwart performance scared Lincoln Chafee right out of the presidential campaign. Feel the O’Malleymentum!


The reason that Thursday’s hearing looked so grotesque was not simply that it was a partisan dumbshow. It looked grotesque in the first place because what was being investigated was nothing. The Marine barracks really was destroyed. The Khobar Towers really did blow up. The Reagan administration really did sell weapons to the mullahs. What Gowdy and his merry band of meatheads was trying to find out already had been explained by a number of different investigations, and it still was unclear what Thursday’s hearing was supposed to be getting at. The other reason is that, for two midterm cycles now, the Republican base has been sending lightweights to represent it in a federal government that the base has grown to hate. Say what you will about Cheney, in terms of partisan political warfare, the man is a heavyweight. Instead, we got Roby, inadvertently stumbling into a wilderness of punchlines, and Lynn Westmoreland, who appeared to be lifted whole from Sam Drucker’s store and plopped behind the committee table, and angry red balloons like Mike Pompeo and Peter Roskam. Even chairman Gowdy is in Congress only because Bob Inglis proved too much of a liberal for a district down in the home office of American sedition. The Tea Party people are electing each other now. The problem with Thursday’s fiasco was not that it was partisanship per se, but that it was an obviously amateur theatrical.

Dear United States:

Please stop electing morons.



Category 5 — Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic explores how Hurricane Patricia gained strength so fast.

Patricia got extremely strong, extremely fast. Late Wednesday evening, it was merely a strong tropical storm, with peak winds of 65 miles per hour. By the following morning, it had become a category-one hurricane; and by Friday morning, it had exceeded records.

How did it intensify so quickly? Falko Judt, a meteorologist at the University of Miami who studies hurricane intensity, said the intensification wasn’t entirely unexpected. It’s just that almost everything that could go the cyclone’s way, did.

The two major factors that govern hurricane intensity, Judt said, are ocean temperature and wind shear. The ocean-surface temperature was very warm under Patricia—it was measured at 31 degrees Celsius, or more than 87 degrees Fahrenheit—which provided the storm with a lot of fuel. At the same time, wind shear was very low, which meant that wind was blowing in the same direction across multiple levels of atmosphere and there was little frictional drag on the storm.

Judt said that these two factors were aided further by very high humidity locally.

“It’s not totally unexpected to me that it intensified so quickly,” he told me. “Everything looked toward it becoming a strong hurricane. It’s just incredible how strong it got.”

What drove that strength?

Judt said that he thought El Niño played a large role. El Niño is a Pacific Ocean-spanning climate phenomenon, in which the eastern part of the ocean, near the equator, becomes warmer than usual. The central and western Pacific in turn become cooler. The effects of the climatological phenomenon are felt across the globe, which causes droughts in Australia and Ethiopia and deluges in California.

“The largest signal of El Niño is around the equator, so it tapers off at higher and lower latitudes. But Mexico is still close enough that it feels the effects,” he said.“It’s always hard to attribute one single storm to a larger phenomenon like El Niño, but it most likely did play a role.”

The Cat’s Tale — Ferris Jabr in The New Yorker on our relationship with felines.

“The cat does not offer services,” William Burroughs wrote. “The cat offers itself.” But it does so with unapologetic ambivalence. Greet a cat enthusiastically and it might respond with nothing more than a few unhurried blinks. Later, as you’re trying to work, it will commandeer your lap, keyboard, and attention, purring all the while. A cat will mew at the food bowl in the morning and set off on a multiple-day trek in the afternoon. Dogs are dependent on us to the point of being obsequious, but cats seem to be constantly reëvaluating the merits of our relationship, as well as their role in domestic life. “Are cats domesticated?” is one of the most frequently Googled questions about the animals, based on the search engine’s autocomplete suggestions.

It’s a question that scientists have been asking, too. The latest answer, based on insights from recent archeological discoveries and genome-sequencing studies, is that cats are semi-domesticated. Conventional wisdom holds that the ancient Egyptians were the first people to bond with the cat, only four thousand years ago. In 2004, however, a team of French researchers working in Cyprus unearthed the ninety-five-hundred-year-old remains of a human and a cat buried side by side. Last year, an analysis of cat bones and teeth from a fifty-three-hundred-year-old settlement in China indicated that the animals were eating rodents, grains, and the leftovers of human meals. It appears that, following the advent of agriculture, wildcats in the Near East and Asia likely began to congregate near farms and grain stores, where mice and rats were abundant. People tolerated the volunteer exterminators, and wildcats became increasingly comfortable with people. Whether this affiliation began five or ten millennia ago, the evidence suggests that cats have not been part of our domestic domain for nearly as long as dogs, who have been our companions for perhaps forty thousand years.

At first, the cat was yet another opportunistic creature that evolved to take advantage of civilization. It was essentially a larger version of the rodents it caught. Somewhere along the line, people shifted from tolerating cats to welcoming them, providing extra food and a warm place to sleep. Why? Perhaps because of the cat’s innate predisposition to tameness and its inherent faunal charm—what the Japanese would call kawaii. Look up photos of the thirty-eight or so wildcat species and you might be surprised at how easy it is to picture one curled up on the couch. Dogs likely initiated their own domestication, too, by prowling around campfires in search of food scraps. Whereas our ancestors quickly harnessed dogs to useful tasks, breeding them to guard, hunt, and herd, they never asked much of cats. We have also been slow to diversify cat breeds. Many dog, horse, and cattle breeds are more than five hundred years old, but the first documented cat fanciers’ show didn’t take place until 1871, at the Crystal Palace, in London, and the most modern cat breeds emerged only within the past fifty years.

This relatively short and lenient period of selective breeding is manifest in the cat genome, Wesley Warren, a geneticist at the University of Washington, in St. Louis, said. In a study published last year, Warren and his colleagues analyzed DNA from several wildcats and domestic cat breeds, including an Abyssinian named Cinnamon. They confirmed that, genetically, cats have diverged much less from their wildcat ancestors than dogs have from wolves, and that the cat genome has much more modest signatures of artificial selection. Because cats also retain sharper hunting skills than dogs, abandoned felines are more likely to survive without any human help. And in some countries, feral cats routinely breed with their wildcat cousins. “There’s still a lot of genetic mixing,” Warren said. “You don’t have the true differentiation you see between wolf and dog. Using the dog as the best comparison, the modern cat is not what I would call fully domesticated.”

Doonesbury — Doctor, doctor.