Greetings! You are reading an article from The Mudville Gazette. To reach the front page, with all the latest news and views, click the logo above or "main" below. Thanks for stopping by!
September 2, 2008
Good Night, GustavBy Greyhawk
One hurricane down, another off shore, one more behind it, and a couple months left in the season.
Good on all the folks involved who made the right choices in preparing for Hurricane Gustav. No one should accuse them of over-reacting. But the relative lack of damage could lead others to take the next one less seriously - and the next one is already threatening.
With that in mind, below is a reprint of a Mudville entry from July, 2005. Few people will remember "Hurricane" Dennis from that year - but it was the storm that helped set America up for the disaster that was Katrina a few weeks later.
Good Night, Dennis
If you missed them over the weekend, scroll down the main page here and you'll see several discussions on the landfall of Hurricane Dennis - reports from Cuba and the United States. Forecasted to slam the Florida coast as a category 3 or 4 storm, the post-landfall photos and video reveal damage consistent with a strong tropical storm with sporadic gusts to hurricane intensity. Coincidentally, this is exactly what wind sensors in the path of the storm detected - on shore and off.
Whether Dennis was a strong tropical storm or a weak hurricane is debatable. What's obvious now is that at and before landfall it wasn't a cat 3 hurricane - not even cat 2. A bad forecast? Not in all regards. Strong tropical storms do cause damage - As Dennis approached the Pensacola area flooding occurred in the rain bands over Apalachicola miles away from the center. Tornadoes likely formed inland. So arguably from the point of view of those in coastal communities the public interest was served - as far as people were made aware that something was going to happen, and they were prepared for the worst. And kudos to the National Hurricane Center, who nailed the expected path of the storm from a few days away.
But what about next time? Sensational type reporting - and exaggeration of minor storms into major stories - contributes to the lack of response on the part of many to a major storm when one does come along. People who erroneously believe they've survived a cat 3-4 storm will be in for a rude surprise when a real one moves in.
Because here's where things become dicey. As we noted before Dennis made landfall, no matter what would actually happen the media would report the Hurricane Center's landfall intensity forecast as if it had occurred - without regard to what was actually happening. (This is true only for forecasts of strong storms - they'd love to castigate the Hurricane Center for missing one - and that contributes to the problem too.)
Media hysteria is a small part of the feedback loop that accompanies one of these events. Consider this: the Hurricane Center makes a forecast. Media reports proclaim it as reality - although the NHC doesn't rely on those reports to evaluate it's performance it certainly makes it more difficult for them to stand up and say things were other than reported.
This is a good example of poor media coverage - an AP report from landfall at Guantanamo Cuba: Packing devastating 145 mph winds, Hurricane Dennis tore down a guard tower at the U.S. detention camp for terror suspects as it stalked Cuba's south coast and moved Friday toward the heart of the largest Caribbean island.
Sound impressive? The "guard tower" was actually a life guard platform knocked over by surf on the beach.
And here are some quotes from stories that appeared as the eye was moving on shore, before anyone knew what was going on.
Reuters: As it came ashore, Dennis was a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, a hurricane with winds of up to 130 mph (208 kph) capable of causing serious damage.
This made it as strong as Hurricane Ivan, which killed 25 people, caused $14 billion in damages and destroyed or damaged 13 oil drilling platforms in the Gulf in September. Earlier Sunday, Dennis was a stronger Category 4 storm.
The AP: The storm crossed land near the same state-line spot where Ivan arrived, pounding beachfronts already painfully exposed by denuded dunes, flattened neighborhoods and piles of rubble that threatened to turn into deadly missiles.
This sort of reporting is pure sensationalism. And it creates an illusion that the storm was as predicted - even though real data shows otherwise.
And the real problem kicks in when those who are responsible for the forecast - and who know what really happened - decide to stick to their guns and declare themselves right. No one expects weather forecasters to be right all the time - when they're wrong it's hardly newsworthy. There was no crime committed here, not even negligence. And no doubt with state of the art (or science, if you prefer) techniques and tools forecasters did the best job humanly possible. But by not admitting to the reality of what happened they excuse themselves from the responsibility of determining what did go wrong - and how to do better next time. Instead we get explanations like "it moved faster" or "improved building codes" - claims that will set us up for a disaster of epic proportions some day.
And here's the type of question that will never be answered: Aircraft measurement of winds indicated a strong storm. If those measurements were accurate, why didn't those winds reach the surface? Will they next time?
Given time you could come up with enough such questions to keep a platoon of university researchers busy for years, but instead we'll get nothing. Everything went exactly right. Science suffers, and knowledge isn't expanded.
Now let's move to the global scale. Is global warming real? The number of strong hurricanes this year will be a data point cited as evidence for or against global warming claims. Unfortunately, it's a tainted data set. I'm not taking a position on that topic here either way - just pointing out that it's unfortunate that bad data will be part of the equation.
Anyway - as Hurricane Dennis fades from the news and lingers only as a data point in the global warming record books we'll bid farewell to weather reporting in Mudville.
Til next time...
Posted by Greyhawk / September 2, 2008 10:01 AM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com